Tomorrow’s energy is already here

Back in the 1960s, there were 10 nuclear power plants planned in Oregon. Only two were built. So: where did Oregon find the energy it needed for a growing population? Efficiency!

Oregon has become one of the most energy-efficient states the nation. But here’s the remarkable thing: there’s even more energy potential to be found in our buildings and homes. Enhabit, a Portland-area energy efficiency nonprofit, estimates that finding the highest efficiency in ten homes will save enough power to serve another three houses. And efficiency is still the cheapest way to cut global warming pollution.

City of Portland Home Energy Score

If you’re curious how much of Oregon’s energy future is hidden in your home, there’s a way to find out. Oregon has a standardized system for Home Performance Scores that will look at all the ways your home uses energy and score your building on a scale of 1-10. It’s kind of like a miles-per-gallon rating for cars—but with a chance to improve. Each Home Energy Score comes with a report recommending which upgrades are most effective, and what the payoff would be for insulation, efficient water heaters, furnaces with ENERGY STAR ratings and the like. In fact, people selling their homes in Portland are now required to get a score and share it with potential buyers.

Portland-area real estate agent JJ Green likes the energy score program because it not only provides valuable information to buyers about the utility bills, it also “motivates Portlanders to tackle the smartest investments.” As a life-long Oregonian (and a member of Oregon Environmental Council’s Emerging Leaders Board), she says, “I’m grateful that Portlanders and elected officials are working to protect our gorgeous state.”

JJ envisions a day when cutting pollution has economic value in the same way that saving energy does. Homeowners Judy Welles and Duane Fickeisen say that cutting pollution is already more valuable to them than energy savings. When they invested in energy upgrades to their 1920’s home, Judy says, “a lot of it was motivated by living our values.” For three years, the couple and their neighbors have presented programs about climate change, open to the public. They want to do all they can to ensure a healthy Oregon for their children and grandchildren. And it doesn’t hurt to have a comfortable and cozy home and a lower utility bill while they do it!

Judy and Duane had an energy score completed for their home mostly out of curiosity. “It’s very non-invasive, says Judy. “We were just sitting in the living room, and it didn’t take very long.” Duane says that the process took an hour and a half, with assessors looking at the mechanics, unscrewing outlet plates, and conducting “a fairly thorough look-around for the house.” Duane was surprised when the results came back with a score of 8 out of 10: an unusually high rating for a home of that age. The improvements they’d made, as part of an earlier assessment, really paid off! The score came in handy when Duane was weighing his choices for his next big purchase. He now knows what it would take to get to a “10,” and how it would pay off—which he compared against other choices, like buying a plug-in hybrid car.

The home energy score program will be a great tool to help Portland—and all of Oregon—meet our state’s greenhouse gas goals. But JJ, Judy and Duane envision far more as well. Judy is particularly concerned about making sure that programs to address lower energy consumption consider the implications for low-income and under-represented communities. She recommends taking a tour of the net-zero construction of low-income apartments at Orenco Station by REACH community development. “It was so fascinating! They can heat the room with excess energy from your fridge and microwave!” JJ, too, has her sight set on improvements to the energy score. She’d like to see it account for new technology like smart thermostats, and find ways to better assess the efficiency features that might not be easy for inspectors to see.

Enhabit has a team of assessors who are trained to score your home. While the audit costs $199 and is required for selling a house in Portland, anyone can pay to have their home’s score calculated. And once it’s complete, you can either brag about your efficiency in your real estate listing or get a list of the smartest investments you can make in order to boost your score.

With plans to boost efficiency and invest in renewable energy, Oregon is on the path to a stable future with a reliable energy supply. But if we are to do our part to address climate change, we will need to move down that path quickly and with conviction. It will take cooperation from every sector of our economy, including nonprofits like Enhabit—and participation from all Oregonians—to build a better future.

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