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Home Energy Score program aims to boost retrofits

Federal initiative designed to launch the home efficiency industry will give homeowners an efficiency rating and access to energy-saving loans.

The Obama administration today launched of an energy efficiency program that will provide consumers with a home efficiency rating.

Vice President Joe Biden, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and other officials announced that the initiative, called the Home Energy Score program, is now in pilot phase in ten communities. The DOE also announced a set of guidelines for home efficiency workers which provide specifications for high-quality work.

The program is designed to encourage homeowners to make energy-saving upgrades and to jump-start the industry for home energy retrofits, Biden said in a statement. It will also include financing for homeowners and software that will let energy contractors give consumers the home efficiency equivalent of miles per gallon for cars.

U.S. Department of Energy

After an energy audit, the software system will generate a label, called a Home Energy Score, that rates on a scale of one to ten how much energy a home uses and what the potential energy savings can be after upgrades, such as adding insulation, air sealing, and more efficient heating and cooling.

Having a numerical score will show consumers how much money they spend on energy annually and make them more likely to invest energy upgrades, Chu said in a statement. Based on the findings of the pilot program, the DOE expects to roll it out nationally next year.

Consumers can apply for up to $25,000 in PowerSaver loans through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which expects that 24,000 homes will qualify during a two-year pilot program, according to USA Today.

This home energy retrofit program follows a $5 billion weatherization investment that was part of the stimulus package last year. Another effort is Home Star, nicknamed Cash for Caulkers, which would provide rebates to consumers for investing in energy efficiency retrofits.

Home Star was a component to different energy bills considered by members of Congress over the past two years but has not yet passed. It also had a rating system and method for overseeing the quality of the work done by contractors.

One of the challenges to the energy retrofit business is having qualified workers who can recommend valuable home efficiency work and then verify the results. An audit done by the DOE's Inspector General Office of Audit Services of the stimulus weatherization program in Illinois found "substandard performance" in the assessments, the actual weatherization work, and contractor billing. (click for PDF of report.)

The Home Energy Score initiative, which came out of a report called Recovery Through Retrofits (click for PDF), will "help take same of the guesswork out of making energy-efficient upgrades to our homes," the Consumers Union, the non-profit which publishes Consumer Reports, said in a statement.

Consumers should realize, though, that energy-efficiency upgrade decisions are very specific to individual homes, said Matt Golden, the president of Recurve, which makes software and provides energy retrofit services. He added that the standards and codes that DOE are providing will be very useful to home efficiency professionals.

Updated at 12:00 p.m. PT with changes throughout.