Rhode Island Paving the Way for Successful Home Energy Labeling

October 25, 2019

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Residential Street—Getty Images (2009, StuartDuncanSmith)
Residential Street—Getty Images (2009, StuartDuncanSmith)

Energy performance metrics are becoming increasingly important to potential homebuyers. Such metrics exist for other large purchases, such as cars (miles per gallon) and appliances (ENERGY STAR® labels), but future utility-cost estimates remain largely unknown to homebuyers. While home energy labels, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Home Energy Score and ENERGY STAR-certified homes, are currently available, they are not widely used. To provide potential homebuyers with energy use metrics, as well as to promote residential energy efficiency, several states in the Northeast established the Home Energy Labeling Information Exchange (HELIX), a database listing energy information of homes on the real estate market.

Widespread use of HELIX was initially limited by a lack of state policies to support the use of home energy labeling in the real estate market. With a competitive award from DOE’s State Energy Program within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources collaborated with other state and National Lab partners to create EMPRESS: Energy Metrics to Promote Residential Energy Scorecards in States. EMPRESS encourages the use of home energy label policies or programs, which can better support the market valuation of energy-efficient homes.

The EMPRESS team started by interviewing stakeholders to determine the best route for creating home energy labeling policies and programs to create consensus-based recommendations that are intended for use by state and local policy officials. The EMPRESS team examined existing state policies to inform best practices for implementing home energy labeling. For example, they found that two states with home energy labeling policies are Oregon and Missouri, and both use different approaches. Oregon uses DOE’s Home Energy Score for statewide home energy labeling, while Missouri has created a gold- or silver-level state certification ranking using nationally recognized residential energy rating systems, such as the Home Energy Score, the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index, and the Columbia Water & Light Efficiency Score. Interviews with both states informed the EMPRESS team on different processes states can take to implement home energy labeling policies or programs.

After interviewing stakeholders, the EMPRESS team decided to focus on asset-based labeling for homes. Asset-based labeling targets physical assets of the home such as insulation levels, hot water systems, heat ventilation, and air conditioning. By focusing on systems in the home, discrepancies between families’ energy use can be eliminated. Past utility bills do not provide helpful information when a home is changing occupants, because bills reflect energy use influenced by occupant behavior and the number of people living in the home. Asset-based labeling eliminates occupant numbers and behavior as a factor and allows an “apples-to-apples” comparison of energy use by utilizing a single set of assumptions for energy use based on the physical systems of the structure. Asset-based labeling also allows new homes to be scored, even though they do not have past utility bills to consider.

The EMPRESS team created Home Energy Labeling: A Guide for State and Local Governments and Key Label Components to provide policymakers with informed recommendations on home energy labeling. The products of the EMPRESS team’s work allow other governmental entities to tailor their policy or program to their jurisdiction without needing to reinvent the wheel, by laying out four steps to establish a labeling program or policy and six critical elements for successful labeling.

DOE’s State Energy Program provides funding and technical assistance to states, territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and maximize the benefits of decreasing energy waste. The State Energy Program emphasizes the state’s role as the decision maker and administrator for program activities within the state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.