A new pilot program in Carbondale is offering residents a free home energy checkup, while testing a new tool for the town to achieve its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goals. It could also offer a model for other Garfield County communities to help reduce residential energy use.
Carbondale’s Home Energy Score program launched in August with a goal of signing up 100 households in its pilot phase, and it already has nearly 80 takers. It’s being implemented by Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), which also manages Garfield Clean Energy’s programs.
The idea is simple. Buildings account for the lion’s share of energy use and emissions in our area. New buildings tend to get more efficient year by year, thanks to ever more stringent building codes, but what about existing buildings? These buildings comprise most of our housing and commercial building stock, and sometimes their owners need extra encouragement to make energy upgrades.
The Home Energy Score is designed to give a snapshot of the home’s current energy use, along with a list of recommendations. Seeing how their home compares to the average – ranked on a 1-to-10 scale, with graphics similar to the EnergyGuide labels seen on appliances – gives homeowners that encouragement, not to mention a bit of peer pressure.
“We’ve been super pleased with the response” to the program, notes CLEER buildings specialist Heidi McCullough. “Carbondale folks have been really eager to learn about their home’s energy performance – and of course inventorying what you’ve got is the first step to improving it.”
Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Home Energy Score is a standardized rating system that draws on about 50 different data inputs, such as insulation levels and window characteristics, to estimate how much energy a home is expected to use.
A certified professional does an on-site inspection that takes about an hour, and afterwards the homeowner receives a two-page report. In addition to the 1-to-10 score, the report includes recommendations for cost-effective improvements and associated annual cost savings estimates, as well as a "Score with Improvements," reflecting the home’s expected score if all the recommended improvements are implemented.
Homeowner Mary Sikes - who also happens to be a building official for the town - says she found the report “enlightening… I learned a lot about my home and how it works.”
Austin, Tx., Gainesville, Fl. and several other cities now require Home Energy Score assessments to be performed prior to all home sales. The score serves as a consumer-protection feature, providing buyers with comparable information about a major purchase, while at the same time motivating sellers to consider energy performance as a selling point.
Carbondale doesn’t currently have plans to mandate Home Energy Scores. The pilot program is a relatively inexpensive way to assess a representative sample of individual residences and then to aggregate the data into an estimate of total residential energy use.
But, says McCullough, the program could play an important role in the town’s roadmap to reaching its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Carbondale already has a timetable for stepping up its building codes to achieve net-zero in new construction by 2030, but there’s no way to impose such a requirement on existing homes. The Home Energy Score system could be used to encourage incremental improvements, perhaps by requiring it when the owner either puts the home on the market or applies for a permit for a major renovation.
Home Energy Score inspections typically cost about $150, but the town is making them available for free as part of the pilot program. If you’re a Carbondale resident and interested in signing up, see our Home Energy Score page.