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Home's energy score might pay off


When Brook Shepard put his Northeast Portland up for sale, he had an edge on others in the market: an Energy Performance Score that told buyers what to expect for heating and electric bills.

“It made a real difference,” says Shepard, who sold the house recently for more than the asking price.

Brooke Garrett, the agent who represented the buyers, agreed the EPS was helpful.

“They were looking for a house that was move-in ready with low costs to maintain, so that was enticing for them,” says Garrett.

New-car buyers know to check out a vehicle’s fuel-mileage estimates that tell them what they’ll pay in gasoline costs. Energy Performance Scores, developed here in Portland, were devised to provide the same calculation for new-home energy bills.

Now Energy Performance Scores are being adapted for existing homes by Clean Energy Works, the Portland-area nonprofit that helps homeowners improve their home’s energy efficiency and comfort. As an added service, Clean Energy Works is providing homeowners with an Energy Performance Score that can help them sell their home when they’re ready.

Shepard is a believer.

He admits he was skeptical when he first contacted the nonprofit organization about evaluating his Northeast Portland house. As someone with a little construction experience, he knew Clean Energy Works did energy assessments and oversaw energy-savings upgrades ranging from insulation to window and furnace replacements. And he knew the organization also could help arrange low-interest loans for the work that could be repaid through a charge on monthly energy bills.

Still, Shepard thought it all sounded too good to be true.

“I thought maybe it was someone just trying to make a buck,” he says.

But after going through the first winter in his home three years ago, Shepard decided it was worth the risk. Even though the house is just 700 square feet, it was built in 1949 and had electric baseboard heaters. Despite some upgrades done in the 1970s, the electric bills ranged from $155 to $280 a month that winter, and Shepard was still cold much of the time.

“It would be too cold. So I’d turn the heat up, and it would be too hot. That battle was not much fun,” Shepard says.

So he contacted Clean Energy Works, which sent out a specialist to evaluate his home. Tests and a thorough inspection revealed too little insulation and poorly designed double-pane windows installed by a previous owner. Recommended upgrades included more insulation, triple-pane windows, and a high-efficiency heat pump. The cost was estimated at $6,500, which could be financed through a low-interest loan paid off in 20 years through a monthly utility bill charge.

Shepard agreed, and was amazed by the results.

A general contractor chosen by the organization oversaw all the work performed by approved subcontractors. The next winter, his monthly electricity bill never exceeded $100, including the loan payment.

And Shepard says he was always comfortable.

Then, when he decided to sell his home two years later, he obtained the Energy Performance Score on his home from Clean Energy Works.

A relatively new form, it uses the same standards established for new homes by the Energy Trust of Oregon, in collaboration with Portland’s Earth Advantage. Called Earth Advantage New Homes, they ensure that qualifying new homes are built to those standards.

The Energy Performance Score for Shepard’s home showed that its carbon footprint had been reduced from 7.2 tons to 4.3 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, resulting in an average energy bill of $81 a month. Several potential buyers were very impressed with that, Shepard says, including the young couple who made the final offer. The sale closed on April 7.

Because customers are repaying their loan on their energy bill, most homeowners in the CEW program don't see their monthly energy bills decrease in the first year. Projects typically cost $12,000 to $15,000 for three to four different kinds of upgrades. As a result, 90 percent of homeowners see their utility bills increase, by an average of $35 a month.

But if Shepard is right, the Energy Performance Score could offset those higher payments when they sell their homes.