As an energy conscious car-buyer, do you pay attention to the MPG (miles-per-gallon) rating of the vehicle? Once you decide on the price range, style of the car, how many seats, legroom, or baggage space, is mileage – a measure of energy efficiency – a factor that tips you from one vehicle to another?
Until recently, there was no way to easily figure energy efficiency into a home buying decision. Decisions boiled down to neighborhood, price, style, number of rooms, overall space and the like. If you were vacillating between two similar properties, you could ask to see last years’ energy bills. But energy expenditures for identical homes could swing wildly between a young family with a TV always on and an air conditioner blasting, and a retired couple who travels a lot. Their energy bills might not tell you anything about the home itself: the energy characteristics of the structure and its systems, like heating and cooling.
Enter HomeMPG, a Massachusetts energy-saving initiative. The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) received a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to pilot an energy performance score (EPS) in residential homes. An EPS is an “asset” rating that’s analogous to a car’s MPG rating. Behavior is taken out of the equation so that any home’s energy use can be compared to any other home, allowing for an apples-to-apples comparison. It’s distinct from meter data that relates to the energy-using behavior or the occupants. The HomeMPG rating, as seen on this scorecard, is a two or three digit number equal to the million British Thermal Units (MMBtus) a house uses in one year.
Homeowners in the pilot area received an initial scorecard during their no-cost Mass Save® home energy assessment and a second scorecard after they completed energy efficiency upgrades. The initiative was piloted from April 2012 through March 2014 in eight municipalities in the western part of the state. Home MPG added “extras” to Mass Save’s standard home energy assessment to show increased energy savings in homes that completed efficiency work. Homes heated with fuel oil yielded Home MPG’s deepest penetration. Adding to the standard Mass Save program, HomeMPG aimed to promote ‘more’ and ‘deeper’ retrofits by including the following extras:
- Energy Performance Scorecard (EPS) before and after efficiency improvements to offer new types of information to homeowners, including annual MMBtu use, a home’s carbon footprint and the financial impact of energy efficiency work
- Thermal imaging analysis that visually depicts areas of needed energy efficiency improvement
- Local outreach and marketing to educate community members
- Bonus insulation incentives and equipment rebates
- Technical assistance service for customers considering equipment upgrades, to answer questions regarding fuel switching and installing new technologies
- Real estate broker and appraiser training to make the link between the EPS, the market for high energy performance homes, and the real estate community
The level of participation – both assessments and resulting energy saving upgrades – enabled analyses that were informative to Mass Save program administrators, DOER and DOE.
- 3866 initial scorecards were issued via energy assessments
- 1500+ updated scorecards were delivered to participants that completed efficiency work
- 42% of participants completed work to date
- Penetration rate was measured at ~6-8%
- 1252 homes completed multiple measures (e.g. air sealing, insulation, and/or HVAC equipment)
Based on a consultant’s telephone survey of 69 Home MPG participants, 98% of homeowners stated that the scorecard was either “very” or “somewhat” useful in making efficiency-improvement decisions. All of the homeowners who recalled receiving a scorecard (84%) said that the scorecard was very or somewhat easy to understand. Assessment of the outcomes of the Home MPG initiative continues, and stakeholders are evaluating the lessons learned.
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