A Report-Out from Portland, Oregon’s Home Energy Score Program

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Nov 03, 2020

A multi-year effort to collect energy efficiency data on homes in Portland, Oregon, has produced more than 20,000 Home Energy Scores, paving the way for energy upgrades that will reduce the city’s carbon emissions and improve the health and comfort of Portland homes. Portland has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and one of the ways to achieve this goal is through efficiency upgrades in single family homes.

Since 2018, Portland has required homeowners to obtain a Home Energy Score when listing a home for sale, which is when buyers and sellers are most likely to invest in upgrades. Portland’s City Council implemented the requirement to encourage efficiency upgrades in the city’s older homes, which were built prior to strict building energy codes.  

Developed by DOE and its national labs, the Home Energy Score™ provides home owners, buyers, and renters directly comparable and credible information about a home’s energy use. Scores range from 1 – 10, with 10 being the most efficient. The score also contains recommended improvements. In a report to the City Council last week, staff charged with overseeing the 2.5-year effort said that homeowners found the list of improvements to be the most useful part of the score, with many homeowners relied on the list to determine priority upgrades. Buyers also reported using the Score when choosing a home.

                   “A high scoring report was one of the key things we were looking for in a home.”
“The house I bought had a high score - I was excited about it.”
“We purposely sought the HES for each home we looked at and intentionally sought a house with a high score.”

Comments from a city-sponsored survey of homebuyers from 2018-2019

Home buyers said they used the score to budget for energy costs and negotiate improvements before a purchase. According to the city’s report, the average cost of a score is around $125, which is covered by the city for low-income home sellers. The most common recommended improvements for homes in Portland include:

  • professionally sealing gaps and cracks that allow air leakage into the home;
  • professionally sealing ducts to reduce airflow leakage;
  • upgrading water heaters to heat pumps and/or choosing ones with an ENERGY STAR® label;
  • upgrading to a higher efficiency heating system and/or heat pump; and
  • insulating exterior walls, attic, basement, and crawlspaces.
     

In addition to providing consumers with information about a home’s energy use, the Portland program has provided data for policymakers. “The benefits of the Home Energy Score policy reach beyond the individual homebuyer, providing an unprecedented view into the existing conditions of Portland’s single-family residential building stock for policy makers and the local energy efficiency sector,” the authors wrote.

Based on Portland’s early success with Home Energy Score, several other Oregon cities are considering similar policies, and the City of Milwaukie, Oregon, adopted a similar ordinance that went into effect October 1, 2020. To learn more about the Home Energy Score, visit the Better Buildings Solution Center.