The Home Energy Score program gives homeowners customized, cost-effective recommendations that will help to reduce their energy costs and improve the comfort of their homes. Low-cost loans will also be available through the FHA PowerSaver program.

Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu Nov. 9 launched the Home Energy Score pilot program (www.HomeEnergyScore.gov). Homeowners receive a report with a home energy score between 1 and 10; a score of “10” represents a home with excellent energy performance, while a “1” represents a home that will benefit from major energy upgrades.

The report shows homeowners how their home compares to others in their region. It also includes customized, cost-effective recommendations that will help to reduce homeowners’ energy costs and improve the comfort of their homes. For each specific improvement, the estimated utility bill savings, payback period and greenhouse gas emission reductions are included.

Under this voluntary program, trained and certified contractors will use a standardized assessment tool developed by the DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to quickly evaluate a home and generate useful, actionable information for homeowners or prospective homebuyers. With only about 40 inputs required, the Home Energy Scoring Tool lets a contractor evaluate a home’s energy assets - such as its heating and cooling systems, insulation levels and more - in generally less than an hour. 

The Home Energy Score initially will be tested with local government, utility and nonprofit partners in 10 pilot communities across the country, located in both urban and rural areas that cover a wide range of climates: Charlottesville, Va.; Allegheny County, Pa.; Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; Minnesota; Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; Indiana; Portland, Ore.; South Carolina; Texas; and Eagle County, Colo.

During this test phase, the department and its partners will gauge how homeowners respond to the program and whether the information encourages them to get energy improvements done on their homes. After the pilot tests conclude in late spring 2011, the DOE expects to launch the Home Energy Score nationally later next year, based on the findings from the initial programs. 

Low-Cost Loans

Biden and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan also announced a pilot program that will offer credit-worthy borrowers low-cost loans to make energy-saving improvements to their homes. More homeowners are interested in making their homes energy efficient, according to industry forecasts. Yet options are still limited for financing home energy improvements, especially for the many homeowners who are unable to take out a home equity loan or access an affordable consumer loan.

Backed by the Federal Housing Administration, the new FHA PowerSaver loans will offer homeowners up to $25,000 to make energy-efficient improvements of their choice, including the installation of insulation, duct sealing, doors and windows, HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels and geothermal systems.

PowerSaver has been carefully designed to meet a need in the marketplace for borrowers who have the ability and motivation to take on modest additional debt to realize the savings over time from a home energy improvement. PowerSaver loans are only available to borrowers with good credit, manageable overall debt and at least some equity in their home (maximum 100 percent combined loan to value).

HUD is seeking a limited number of mortgage lenders to participate in the two-year pilot program slated to begin in early 2011. Lenders will be selected based on their capacity and commitment to provide affordable home energy improvement financing. They will be required to serve communities that have already taken affirmative steps to expand home energy improvements. HUD will help lenders identify such markets.

FHA mortgage insurance will cover up to 90 percent of the loan amount in the event of default. Lenders will retain the remaining risk on each loan, incentivizing responsible underwriting and lending standards. The FHA will provide streamlined insurance claims payment procedures on PowerSaver loans. In addition, lenders may be eligible for incentive grant payments from the FHA to enhance benefits to borrowers, such as lowering interest rates.

The Home Energy Score and FHA PowerSaver programs are part of the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative launched in May 2009 by Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force to develop federal actions that would expand green job opportunities in the United States and boost energy savings by improving home energy efficiency. The announcement is part of an 18-month-long interagency effort facilitated by White House Council on Environmental Quality with the Office of the Vice President, 11 departments and agencies and six White House offices.

Workforce Guidelines

The DOE also released the “Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades,” a comprehensive set of guidelines for workers in the residential energy-efficiency industry, which will help develop and expand the skills of the workforce, ensuring the quality of the work performed, while laying the foundation for a more robust worker certification and training program nationwide.

Energy improvement programs can adopt these guidelines to increase the consistency and effectiveness of energy upgrades, and training providers can use them to improve course curricula and training materials. These guidelines were developed through a collaboration between energy-efficiency contractors, building scientists, health and safety experts, technicians and trainers in the weatherization program, and other professionals in the building and home energy upgrade industry. 

The Workforce Guidelines include standard work specifications required for high-quality work, a reference guide for technical standards and codes, analyses of the job tasks involved in completing various energy-efficiency improvements, and the minimum qualifications workers should possess to perform high-quality work. 

Identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform efficiency upgrades represents an important step in developing a nationwide framework for training program accreditation and worker certification.  The guidelines will be available for public comment through Jan. 7, 2011.