With champagne flutes and noisemakers safely stored away, many of us turn to making New Year’s resolutions. These vary widely, but usually have one thing in common – we select them and measure success or failure ourselves. Wise partners and friends know to give advice only if asked. In short, one size doesn’t fit all, and mandates backfire.
Over the holiday break, I was reminded that local officials should adopt this same approach when it comes to one of the most important transactions that a family encounters – buying or selling a home. Lots of ink has already been devoted to the fallacies of heavy-handed solar panel ordinances in South Miami and San Francisco adopted last year, but there’s now a new one to watch in Portland, Oregon.
Portland’s new ordinance went into effect January 1, 2018 and requires single-family home sellers to obtain a “Home Energy Report” ahead of listing a home. The heart of the Report is a Home Energy Score. According to the city, the “Home Energy Score is a measurement of the energy efficiency of a home based on an onsite evaluation of the physical characteristics of the house. [It] … is not a measurement of the household’s actual energy usage, which is influenced by occupant behavior.” Failing to post the Score online and on premises can lead to a $500 fine. The assessment itself is projected to cost $150 to $250.
This ordinance must have sounded appealing to the City Council. More information for buyers is good, right? Both parties can use the handy two-page report. Who wouldn’t want to know the carbon footprint of their home? And “think of the good-paying jobs right here in our city” for the inspectors.
Energy efficiency should be encouraged; there are many common-sense, low-cost measures people can take. Still, when faced with a one-size-fits-all approach that adds process and cost for consumers, policymakers should always ask tough questions to ensure that hard and fast rules really pencil out and provide more benefit than cost.
Based on the sample report, this new process doesn’t provide substantially more information than a home inspection. Basing the score only on the home’s characteristics and ignoring occupant behavior leaves out what many homebuyers may really want to know – when a real person lived here, what did it cost to heat and cool this property? And, it seems likely to divert funds that parties might actually use to improve their homes’ efficiency. Low-income consumers – sometimes the least able to navigate processes – have to apply for assistance.
On top of it all, the new ordinance ignores the fact that if you are buying or selling a home, you are already incredibly busy, juggling lots of to-do lists and may be facing other life pressures. If we want people to think warmly of energy efficiency, this new requirement may have the opposite effect. Portland and other cities would do well to let homeowners make their own efficiency resolutions at home.