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Home Energy Ratings: What Are They and How Can They Help You?

September 30 2009

A home energy rating is the standard measurement of a home’s energy efficiency, which can be very useful when it comes to selling or buying a home. If you’re looking to buy a home, energy ratings let you easily compare the energy costs from one home to another and can help you qualify for an energy-efficient mortgage. And if you’re in the market to sell, a home energy rating can help you identify cost-effective ways to lower your home’s energy costs, which can be a great way to attract potential buyers. (It’s also a great way just to save some money yourself!). Read on to learn more about the how-to’s and benefits of having your home rated for energy efficiency.

How Home Energy Ratings Are Determined

Obtaining a home energy rating involves an on-site inspection by a residential energy-efficiency expert, according to the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), a nonprofit building industry organization that sets and maintains standards for energy-efficient building. A home energy rater who has been trained and certified by a RESNET-accredited home energy rating system will visit and inspect your home to measure its energy characteristics, such as insulation levels, window efficiency, wall-to-window ratio, heating and cooling system efficiency and the solar orientation of a home.

In many instances, the home energy rater will employ performance testing, such as a blower door test to measure door and duct leakage, and complete a thermal bypass checklist, a visual inspection of common construction areas where air can flow through or around insulation.

Following these inspections, the home energy rater provides a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) report outlining the findings. As part of the HERS report, homes receive a point score between 0 and 100 – the lower the number, the more energy efficient the home – as well as an estimate of the home’s energy costs. The energy rating can be used by homeowners to pinpoint specific cost-effective improvements than can increase the home’s overall energy efficiency.

The Benefits of Home Energy Ratings

The benefits of home energy ratings are manifold. First, home energy ratings help identify ways to easily and cost-effectively improve your home’s energy efficiency, which can result in reduced energy costs and less environmental impact.  For example, an energy rating will measure how much leakage you may have in the distribution systems for your heating or air conditioning, says RESNET Executive Director Steve Baden. “You can lose a big percentage of your expensive treated air through leaks,” he says. “A rating will show you exactly how much you are losing through your ducts and what you can do to improve it.” Each home energy rating generates a customized list of the most cost-effective ways to increase energy efficiency, Baden adds.

Second, an efficient energy rating can qualify your home for energy-efficient certification through a number of nationally recognized programs, which can increase its resale value. Homes that meet a minimum energy-efficiency threshold can qualify for a range of programs, such as the ENERGY STAR Certification and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Green Building Programs, says Baden. In many cases, RESNET-certified home raters can complete the paperwork for certification under these programs as part of the rating process itself, Baden adds.

The benefits of home energy ratings are perhaps most pronounced for prospective homebuyers, according to Baden. “A home energy rating shows in a very understandable manner just how efficient a home is and enables potential buyers to compare it directly to other homes,” he says. “It’s very similar to the EPA stickers on automobiles or the Energy Guide stickers on appliances,” Baden adds.

Finally, a home energy rating can help you qualify for an energy-efficient or “green” mortgage, which can result in substantial savings over time. Home energy ratings are also used to by the Internal Revenue Service to determine eligibility for certain tax credits.

Obtaining an Energy Rating for Your Home

RESNET provides a comprehensive state-by-state listing of certified home energy raters. To find one near you, click here.