Measure Energy Performance With the E-Scale

Use this Department of Energy gauge to compare homes' "mileage" before you buy.

Ever wonder how a home's energy use compares with the one across the street? Thanks to the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergySmart Home Scale, now you can.

Consider this scenario: You're shopping for a new car, wandering around the lot looking at makes, models, colors and styles. You decide you'd like a sedan, something roomy enough for your kids but small enough to fit into that parking space in town without too many attempts. You like the color white. There are a few on the lot that meet those criteria, but how many miles per gallon does each model get? Ah, this one's far more efficient than the one two aisles over, but it looks and costs pretty much the same. You'll take this one, thanks.

So, what about that new home you're shopping for? How many miles per gallon does it get? The EnergySmart Home Scale — or E-Scale — was created to answer just that. It helps home buyers understand the energy performance of new homes.

Using as a basis the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), a standard measurement system developed by the Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET, the E-Scale offers a single number to use to compare a new home with a typical new or existing home or the ultimate energy saver: the net-zero-energy home. The lower the E-Scale rating, the more efficient the home.

Once a third-party verifier evaluates a new home, an E-Scale label is placed on or near the home's electrical box bearing a specific number rating. Unlike other "green" building programs that offer a general certification of the builder, the E-Scale provides an annual energy-performance estimate for each house. The E-Scale label also includes information about energy use and cost. A homeowner can see at a glance where his house stands in terms of relative energy efficiency and can calculate what his energy bills is expected to be on a monthly and yearly basis.

Builders who produce high-performance homes can use the E-Scale to further differentiate their product by showing prospective buyers that they build to an exceptional level of energy performance and quality. The E-Scale is available to builders who participate in the Department of Energy's Builders Challenge program, established to promote the construction of high-performance homes and offer progressive builders marketing and building-management support.

A home that qualifies under the Builders Challenge scores a 70 or lower on the E-Scale. By comparison, a traditionally built existing home generally scores around 130, a new home built to code scores around 100, and the ideal home, a net-zero-energy home, scores a zero. Builders who wish to participate in the program must have their homes rated by a certified third-party verifier and meet the Builders Challenge Quality Criteria (.pdf), which provide step-by-step quality requirements and recommendations for the planning, design, construction, documentation and evaluation of a home.

For builders, the benefits of a home built to Builders Challenge standards extend beyond offering a superior product. Once a home achieves third-party verification, the builder receives a customized E-Scale with his company's logo appearing alongside the Department of Energy logo. By displaying the E-Scale, builders can show potential buyers their commitment to constructing high-performance homes. In turn, the DOE highlights participating builders on its website and provides useful marketing and technical tools. This support allows even small builders who participate in the program to get recognition and marketing leverage in competitive areas.

The Builders Challenge program has a goal of making net-zero energy homes available to home buyers in all markets across the United States by the year 2030. Builders who wish to participate in the Builders Challenge may sign up at www.buildingamerica.gov/challenge.

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