Energy efficiency: Real estate’s next granite counter top?

By Elisa Wood

A lot of good economic reasons exist to pursue energy efficiency. Still the average person tends not to. This is no surprise. If I cannot see, touch, buy, sell, trade or save efficiency, if it’s invisible, how can I pay it any real attention?

Often on the vanguard, Boston-based Conservation Services Group is working on an idea to make home efficiency more tangible. It is a surprisingly simple idea. One that is likely to leave a lot of people saying, ‘Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?’

You might say CSG is making energy efficiency the next granite kitchen counter top of the real estate business.

Through a $348,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, CSG is working on a metric to describe a home’s energy efficiency value. When a homeowner lists a house for sale, the metric would be included in the multiple listing service (MLS), right along with the home’s price, number of bedrooms, square-footage and location.

Suddenly, efficiency is tangible, something that can be quantified and can add or detract to home value.

It’s not yet clear what that metric will look like. It might be a numerical score or a certification like the Energy Star label. Figuring that out is part of CSG’s task, as it puts in place a program for New York over the next two years.

“You can imagine the pitfalls in establishing what this score would be,” said David Weitz, director of CSG’s Applied Building Science Division. “How do you present it in a way that is accessible to the greatest number of people. Unfortunately, there is no right answer.”

CSG plans to hold focus groups with homeowners to get a sense of what might work. The idea is to come up with a measurement that translates into a selling point, much like the granite counter top or hard wood floors. The hope is that sellers will install efficiency to increase their grade. Presumably, the higher grade will make the home more marketable.

Weitz also must convince MLS administrators to accept the metric and include it in the listings. Fortunately, CSG is not alone in this pursuit. Similar programs are in the works in other parts of the country. In addition, the US Department of Energy is working on creating a national an ‘e-scale’ label for homes. Weitz hopes the DOE effort and various local labeling initiatives will come together to create consistency in labeling nationwide.

In winning the award, the 26-year-old CSG edged out more than 350 proposals, submitted last April, from organizations in 44 states that offered scalable approaches for spurring energy efficiency retrofits in existing buildings. Grants totaling $2.7 million went to nine winners, which were evaluated by a panel of experts in real estate, finance, construction, government policy and energy efficiency technologies.

“In the past, people would buy a house without any real understanding of its ongoing energy costs. Establishing an energy efficiency category, within MLS listings, will help during the selection process by providing homebuyers with another essential piece of information,” Weitz said.

If it’s successful, who knows, maybe someday the real estate mantra will no longer be ‘location, location, location,’ but instead, ‘efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.’

Elisa Wood is co-author of “Energy Efficiency Incentives for Businesses 2010: Eastern States,” available at www.realenergywriters.com.

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Tags: MLS, efficiency, estate, real, realenergywriters

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Comment by Steve Waclo on November 18, 2010 at 1:13pm
Elisa:

Yesterday, I mentioned the workshop I attended dealing with Audit on Sale here in NV. Here's a link to an article in the Reno Gazette Journal summarizing the festivities:

http://www.rgj.com/article/20101116/NEWS/101116047/1321/news/Propos...

The comments that follow the article provide some indication of the educational challenge we face.
Comment by Steve Waclo on November 17, 2010 at 10:31am
Elisa:
Just attended a workshop here in Carson City, NV yesterday (16th) where the NV Energy Office took testimony pursuant to proposed regulations enacting a NV law enacted in '08 for Audit on Sale home energy audits. Nevada's realtor association, along with a nuumber of other allies, has watered down the regs to providing the buyer with 12 months of energy records (!!), citing the poor housing market and "stigmatizing" homes. Sound like the program you describe could provide an area of agreement. Will forward a link to our Energy Office for future consideration. I'm afraid we may be losing this round in NV :-(.
Comment by Kent Mitchell on November 16, 2010 at 7:21am
Not convinced we need yet another rating system - seems there is too many already. I do like the idea of a uniform system put in place but we have plenty to choose from. Going to waste a couple more years studying another one...
Comment by Mark Richardson on November 8, 2010 at 6:02pm
I was excited when I heard about this Grant, I think it could really boost Residential Energy Audits to an entirely new level. Also glad to hear the pilot will be in New York!

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