Necessary Residence Vitality Scores a ‘Sluggish-Burn Play,’ Advocates Say – Subsequent Metropolis
A bill that will fight climate change, create jobs and cut costs snakes its way through the Massachusetts State Senate. If passed, S.1983 will require all homes for sale to have data on how energy efficient they are in the hope that market demand for efficiency will force sellers to invest in upgrades.
According to Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-First Hampden and Hampshire), who sponsored the bill, a quarter of the greenhouse gases in Massachusetts come from residential buildings. “We have to find additive solutions that help people in the process, involve them in the process and reduce costs in the process,” he says. “That’s it.”
Theoretically, a potential seller whose house is getting a low energy value will be tempted to renovate with energy-efficient appliances or to seal pipes or add insulation. That would increase their energy score and increase the value of their property while reducing energy consumption, and less consumption means fewer carbon emissions. Electricity bills will fall and the demand for efficiency gains will create new green jobs.
S.1983 is currently on the committee and a hearing is expected in the next few months. Protecting the environment while creating jobs and saving money for constituents should be an easy sale, but Lesser was forced to enact similar laws last summer.
Regulations in some cities, such as Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have been criticized by the real estate industry, advocating low-income homeowners concerned about the potential impact efficiency claims could have on sellers who cannot afford new heating and cooling systems or other upgrades . There is also no evidence that homeowners are looking for efficiency or that sellers respond to low energy values by investing in upgrades.
“This program results in a sheet of paper,” said Jane Leo, chief realtor for the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, which represents 8,300 real estate agents in the area. “This program does not lead to energy efficiency.”
“This Program” means Portland’s Home Energy Score (HES) regulation, which is similar to the Lesser Bill and which became effective January 1, 2018. By the end of June 2019, 12,973 apartments had been rated with a city-wide average of 4.6 on a ten-point scale. The average potential score when recommended efficiencies are implemented is 7.3. If all of these efficiency gains were implemented, homeowners would save an estimated $ 4.2 million in utility bills and prevent 14,602 tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
The rating system is based on standards and tools from the US Department of Energy. Assessors insert about fifty values into the DOE software: number of square meters; Insulation and piping; Window type and orientation to the sun; Building materials; Heating and cooling systems; and so on. The resulting report includes the number, estimated annual operating costs, and recommendations for efficiency gains with a payback of ten years. The assessments cost around $ 150 and the reports are stored in the Green Building Registry. Sellers must also make them available through online property listings and open days.
Lisa Timmerman, program manager for Energy Score at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, says the scores are aimed at market transformation. It’s basically about taking a value that was previously invisible in the market and bringing it to light so that the market can respond so that it can better evaluate the properties of that building. “
But Leo claims that homebuyers shop by size and location and are largely unaware of the results. The lack of demand means that sellers have no incentive to pay for upgrades. She sees direct tax breaks for improvements like adding insulation or replacing old windows as the best way to keep the home more efficient.
It is unknown how many Portlanders followed the efficiency recommendations on their Home Energy Score reports. Peter Kernan, program director for the Community Energy Project, which provides basic weather and efficiency services to income-qualified homeowners, has consulted fewer than a dozen homeowners about energy improvements after receiving low scores.
“This deserves more publicity and outreach, but it’s also a slow burn,” says Kernan. “It was not intended to change the market overnight, but I hope – and we are seeing signs – that over time it will lead to stimulative action.”
In Austin there is at least isolated evidence that energy values stimulate the action. Jessica Galloway, project manager for Austin Energy, was told by auditors that jobs related to discount programs and renovations had been created, implying that energy audits have led to efficiency gains. Austin enacted its Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure (ECAD) regulation in 2009. Researchers are pulling data from the program to examine the correlation between home energy values and home prices. However, so far there is no evidence of this.
All parties agree that there is simply no consumer awareness, which may explain the lack of impact energy scores have on the property market. The Portland and Austin administrators have focused on training brokers in the hopes of getting information and ultimately interest to their clients. Galloway has received reports of house energy audits at Open Houses, but admits that most people have no reason to know about the guidelines unless they are actively buying or selling a home.
A known problem in Portland is that salespeople don’t obey the law. Compliance with the Energy Score Act is currently 65 percent based on random checks of the listings. The city has allowed the property market to adapt, but will soon begin imposing fines of up to $ 500 on homeowners who refuse to do so after warnings, Timmerman said. The Austin program has a similar estimated compliance rate.
A common problem with home energy assessment laws is that low-income homeowners who cannot afford efficiency gains are disproportionately affected. It is believed that a low energy homeowner who couldn’t afford to drop the value of their home would go down. Not only has a correlation between home energy values and home values not yet been found, however, it is also not taken for granted that a low-income homeowner’s home would fare poorly.
“I would say that there is actually a greater correlation between the size of the house and the score,” says Timmerman. “Typically, some of the lower income homes are these smaller homes. I think there is this conclusion that shows that low income homes are going to score fewer points, and that is not always necessarily the case. “
Portland homeowners with or under sixty percent of the median income are eligible for free ratings from the Community Energy Project. Kernan estimates that approximately fifty people preparing to sell their homes have used the program. There are also organizations that offer incentives for new heating and cooling systems as well as efficiency renovations, but many people are not aware of this. This is especially frustrating when the people who qualify for many programs are the people who need them most.
“Portland continues to experience hotter summers and longer periods of over 90 degree days,” says Kernan. “Last summer we had the longest stretch of more than 90 degree consecutive days, and if you have a house without insulation it will be very hot on those days. For many of the customers we offer mobility to, this is a problem and they age on the spot. If their home gets very hot it can pose a health hazard to them. “
Both Austin and Portland have expanded their energy score guidelines to varying degrees to cover rents as well. Under the Austin program, most homeowners are required to disclose estimated monthly utility charges prior to signing the lease. Portland’s Energy Score Program has no such requirement and homes are exempt. However, once a single family rental property has been assessed, renters can find the report online.
There is no contradiction that the energy demand of living space is a major source of carbon pollution. Nobody argues that home efficiency renovations and heating and cooling system upgrades are a bad thing. It’s about how to convince people to actually make the investments it takes to curb energy consumption.
So far, there isn’t enough evidence that energy score guidelines like those in Austin and Portland or the ones proposed in Massachusetts can make a difference. Equity concerns persist, as do effectiveness concerns, but climate change concerns are so great that lawmakers are willing to try new ideas in the hope that they will work.
“If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gases, if we are serious about protecting the environment, if we really want to get to the core source of much of the carbon emissions that cause climate change, we need a strategy to improve the efficiency of Homes, “says Lesser,” and this is one of the most effective ways to do it. “