Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources
Massachusetts Innovates to Drive Energy Efficiency Upgrades
Massachusetts is not a stranger to energy upgrade programs. The state's Mass Save® program, an initiative sponsored by investor-owned gas and electric utilities and municipal aggregators, has been around for more than a decade. To spur even more energy efficiency upgrades in communities across the state, the state's Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is using $2.6 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to provide homeowners in Springfield and six surrounding communities with easily understandable, centralized information about efficiency opportunities in their homes.
The goal is to spur more and deeper energy upgrades by providing homeowners and energy professionals with better, deeper, and more accessible information about energy efficiency opportunities. Massachusetts is working with three other states—Alabama, Virginia, and Washington—to pilot this approach.
MPG for Homes
Lots of products are labeled to provide consumers necessary information. Food labels reveal how many calories and carbohydrates we'll be eating, while cars' miles per gallon (MPG) ratings tell us how much gas they'll use. But no universal home energy rating label exists to explain our home's efficiency and how much it will cost to operate, even though a home is likely to be the biggest purchase many Americans ever make. That's why Massachusetts, along with Virginia, Alabama, and Washington, is providing homeowners with a way to easily understand and compare home energy efficiency—the home Energy Performance Score (EPS).
An EPS is like an MPG rating—an energy efficiency metric that's comparable across homes. To compute an EPS, software models make building predictions about energy use based on a home's measurable features and incorporating standard assumptions about typical occupant behavior. The EPS provides a way for homeowners to more easily understand the current efficiency of their home, as well as what it would be if the home were upgraded. The EPS can also be incorporated into real estate listings so prospective home buyers and the real estate financial community can use it to evaluate a home's operating costs.
An Energy Efficiency "One Stop Shop"
Massachusetts, along with Virginia, Alabama, and Washington, is jointly investing in a Web information portal that compiles results from energy evaluations, including EPS, upgrade recommendations, financing terms, and other incentives in one place. After viewing their home's EPS and recommended upgrades on the site, Massachusetts homeowners can request bids from qualified energy experts, and the professionals can respond to such requests—all through the information portal. The homeowner can also apply for a Mass Save HEAT Loan of up to $25,000 at 0% interest by accessing forms and information via the portal.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
As a way of helping homeowners visualize home energy inefficiency, and to generate information to guide home energy evaluations, DOER equipped a hybrid SUV with a thermal imaging system and sent it on a journey. During the spring of 2011, the vehicle traveled streets within the seven communities participating in the program, performing thermal imaging of homes as it passed. All told, DOER was able to image approximately 40,000 homes.
Realizing that some homeowners would not want their homes filmed, DOER provided an opt-out option. However, the department found that many homeowners instead asked specifically to have their home scanned. This prompted DOER to create a priority list to ensure no homeowners who requested scans were omitted.
Once DOER finishes analyzing the images, homeowners are given access to a secure website that stores the thermal images of their house. The images make it easy to identify areas where opportunities exist to improve energy efficiency and to decide whether to request a no-cost energy efficiency evaluation from DOER's Mass Save program. For example, a relatively new home may appear to the eye to be well maintained, with no visible insulation or window problems. However, a thermal scan can reveal problems such as insulation missing from inside a wall or from the foundation, or heat leaking from single-pane windows. The images are also made available to energy experts, giving them information before investigating a home and paving the way for improvement recommendations.
Bringing the Pros Up to Speed
To help energy experts make use of the Web information portal and EPS, DOER has conducted trainings for these professionals on which data points to collect in order to compute the EPS score. The professionals also learn to integrate the Web information portal into their workflow to share progress and information with homeowners.
More training is in the works to bring real estate professionals and appraisers up to speed on the EPS and the benefits that a high score indicates. This will help introduce the concept of energy performance as a factor in the real estate marketplace, ensuring that high-performing homes are valued accordingly.
U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program