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Originally published Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8:04 PM

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Market Matters: Like a new car, be sure to check home’s fuel-efficiency score

A specially trained and certified rater can conduct an inspection and run tests on the home. The higher the score, the worse the performance.

Special to NWhomes

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If you were buying a car in 1970s (hopefully you didn’t buy a Chevy Vega like yours truly), you probably didn’t have the slightest clue about its miles-per-gallon rating.

Back then, choices were based on color, comfort, speed, design and reputation — and whether it had an eight-track player. Those are still important factors today (OK, maybe not the eight-track player).

But with gas at about $4 per gallon, today’s car buyers also want to know about gas mileage.

Similarly, if you are buying a home, you can learn all about its energy use. A specially trained and certified rater can conduct an inspection and run tests on the home, which generates a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score. This score tells you about the energy efficiency of the home. The higher the score, the worse the performance. The lower the score, the better.

An older home is likely to have a score of 130 or more. A basic newer home will have a score of around 100.

A home that is EnergyStar certified will have a score of 85. This isn’t just a home with EnergyStar appliances and lighting; it’s built to a very specific set of standards.

Northwest Multiple Listing Services recently added the HERS score to the search fields on its website. If you don’t see the score listed, you can (and should) ask. You can also search for EnergyStar-certified and Built Green-certified homes.

A home’s HERS score is determined by a number of facts, including its size; orientation; window location; and insulation in the walls, ceiling and floors.

Ducts are also tested, because studies have shown that 14 percent of an older home’s heat loss is through the ducting system.

The efficiency of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is critical. Light fixtures, appliances, use of natural light and ventilation all add to the savings, which helps to drive down a HERS score.

Some builders have taken up the challenge and are building homes with very low scores. When a home requires no external energy because it can generate all of its own, it’s called a net-zero home and the HERS score is zero.

Examples include Zero-Energy Plans (zero-energyplans.com), which sells home plans to builders and the public. One of these homes has a HERS score of negative-15 — that’s beyond zero energy! These homes generate all the energy they need, and can also power the family’s electric cars.

According to the Residential Energy Services Network, more than a million homes in the U.S. have obtained a HERS score. More information about HERS scores is available by visiting resnet.us.

I would never buy a car without looking at its fuel-efficiency standards, and smart buyers are applying the same principle to their home purchases.

Dave Porter, LEED GA, NAHB, CGP & CAPS, is a director at PorterWorks, a training and consulting group, and is a founding member of the New Home Council. “Market Matters” is the council’s weekly column offering insight into the housing market. For more information on homebuying, visit thenewhomecouncil.com.

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