Baker proposes home energy efficiency score

Would be required as part of real estate transactions in 2021

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Tuesday proposed the creation of an easy-to-understand home energy efficiency score that could provide guidance for owners seeking to improve the energy efficiency of their residences and insight for buyers as they decide whether to make a purchase.

At a press conference at the State House, Baker said the legislation would task the state Department of Energy Resources with developing the components of the score and the rules and regulations accompanying its usage. The score would be generated whenever an energy audit of a home is conducted and, starting in 2021, be a required part of the paperwork for every real estate transaction.

Homes generate an estimated 26 percent of the state’s greenhouse gases. The state’s utilities manage aggressive energy efficiency programs, but the initiatives have had more success with commercial and industrial customers than homeowners. With an energy score, which Baker likened to a miles per gallon estimate for cars, the hope is that energy usage will become a factor in determining the value of a home and become a higher priority for homeowners.

Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, the president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, who joined Baker at the press conference, said consumers already can compare the energy usage of cars, light bulbs, and dish washers. She said the Baker proposal would merely extend that approach to homes.

If the legislation is approved by state lawmakers, Baker administration officials said, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to adopt such an approach.

Gregory Vasil, chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said the energy score could have a real impact on homeowners with energy inefficient homes who would need to make significant investments to earn a better grade.

“That may work in Weston, Wayland, and Wellelsey,” Vasil said. “But what do you do if you’re in Mattapan and Dorchester and Boston and struggling. You’ve bought at a certain number and you find that your house isn’t energy efficient and all of a sudden the price of that house starts to drop.”

Vasil also said the analogy to estimated miles per gallon is flawed. “Cars are built on assembly lines,” he said. “Houses aren’t.”

There are an estimated 1.8 million homes in Massachusetts, but only about 60,000 undergo energy audits each year. At that pace, Baker said, it will be a long time before there is a real impact on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. He said the introduction of home energy scores should speed that process up, particularly if scores are eventually required at real estate closings.

“There are a lot of people leaving a lot of very low-hanging fruit in their homes on the table right now by not participating in this program,” Baker said, noting that many home energy improvements are subsidized by utility ratepayers.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Vasil said a grandmother trying to sell her house might be held up by the scoring requirement, but Matthew Beaton, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said many real estate transactions will be exempted from the process. He estimated 200,000 of the state’s 1.8 million homes could be exempted for one reason or another. “We don’t want to hold up a little old lady trying to sell her house,” he said.

Beaton said the state tested the concept with 4,000 homes in Springfield. In that test, he said, homeowners could compare their scores to the scores of other houses in the area and learn what measures would be needed to boost their score.

He said comparing utility bills is less helpful because some homeowners keep their thermostat at 58 degrees during the winter while others set it at 70. “This takes the human element out of it to allow you to compare apples to apples,” he said. “The core, the root of all this, is consumer information.”