I don’t own a single family home, but if I did, I’d probably be hunting for efficiency programs. The good news for homeowners: there are lots of programs and there’s lots of money on the table. The bad news: the number of options and incentives is somewhat bewildering.

In Oregon, for example, a single family home owner might apply for funding for an audit and low interest financing for improvements through the Clean Energy Fund. If improvements qualify, the homeowner can apply for a tax credit as part of the Residential Energy Tax Credit program and she can deduct the cost of the improvements from her state income tax. And there is the possibility, if I am buying a new home, of getting an Energy Efficient Mortgage into which costs for energy improvements can be combined with my monthly payment.

  • Oh, and I might also qualify for a tax credit on my federal income tax as well totaling 30 percent of the costs of my improvement. All of this is on top of the energy savings I get from the improvements on my utility bill.

    All of these options require an audit and an official rating of how energy efficient the home in question is today. Whether it is a new home or one that a homeowner is planning on improving, agencies and lenders want to know which improvements will save the most money over time. Scoring homes has become important, and the quest has been to create the equivalent of the miles per gallon (MPG) measure associated when a person is buying a new car. The idea is to have one number which would encourage manufactures to improve MPG to meet consumer demand for efficiency. The rating is listed on the window of each car on the lot. The idea would be to use the same kind of system for houses—where buyers and lenders could quickly determine a home’s efficiency.

    There are two scoring systems that are already in the works, the Energy Performance ScoreHousing Energy Rating Score (HERS) Index. The HERS Index is about 3 years old and is part of the federal government’s Energy Star program. The EPS was developed, in part, by Energy Trust of Oregon and debuted earlier this year. The City of Seattle’s new efficiency initiative will use the EPS system for its rating.

    Both these efficiency rating systems rely on the “blower door” test and tests of insulation and leaks in duct work. Both also report a particular rating in comparison to a reference home and each of the ratings goes from high to low with zero being a net zero energy home. EPS lowers the score for power generated on site and the HERS Index does not.

    Here is a side by side comparison of the HERS Index and the EPS Certificate.

      HERS Index EPS Larger

    If I was buying a home or considering efficiencies I would prefer the EPS. It is easier to read, provides monthly and yearly energy costs in dollar figures and it measures a home’s carbon emissions, something the HERS Index does not measure.  

    Okay, so it’s a lot to consider. But at least there are lots of incentives out there for home efficiency. As a matter of fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I shouldn’t be in the market for a single family home with lots of energy inefficiencies. Between the incentives, tax credits and energy savings, an affordable fixer-upper might just pay for itself.

    Have you had an audit using either EPS or HERS as the rating system? Are you planning to make some improvements or are you holding back? We’d love to read about your experiences in the comments.