Energy efficiency: Real estate’s next granite counter top?

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By Elisa Wood

November 3, 2010

A lot of good economic reasons exist to pursue energy efficiency. Still the average person tends not to. This is no surprise. If I cannot see, touch, buy, sell, trade or save efficiency, if it’s invisible, how can I pay it any real attention?

Often on the vanguard, Boston-based Conservation Services Group is working on an idea to make home efficiency more tangible. It is a surprisingly simple idea. One that is likely to leave a lot of people saying, ‘Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?’

You might say CSG is making energy efficiency the next granite kitchen counter top of the real estate business.

Through a $348,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, CSG is working on a metric to describe a home’s energy efficiency value. When a homeowner lists a house for sale, the metric would be included in the multiple listing service (MLS), right along with the home’s price, number of bedrooms, square-footage and location.

Suddenly, efficiency is tangible, something that can be quantified and can add or detract to home value.

It’s not yet clear what that metric will look like. It might be a numerical score or a certification like the Energy Star label. Figuring that out is part of CSG’s task, as it puts in place a program for New York over the next two years.

“You can imagine the pitfalls in establishing what this score would be,” said David Weitz, director of CSG’s Applied Building Science Division. “How do you present it in a way that is accessible to the greatest number of people.  Unfortunately, there is no right answer.”

CSG plans to hold focus groups with homeowners to get a sense of what might work. The idea is to come up with a measurement that translates into a selling point, much like the granite counter top or hard wood floors. The hope is that sellers will install efficiency to increase their grade. Presumably, the higher grade will make the home more marketable.

Weitz also must convince MLS administrators to accept the metric and include it in the listings. Fortunately, CSG is not alone in this pursuit. Similar programs are in the works in other parts of the country. In addition, the US Department of Energy is working on creating a national an ‘e-scale’ label for homes. Weitz hopes the DOE effort and various local labeling initiatives will come together to create consistency in labeling nationwide.

In winning the award, the 26-year-old CSG edged out more than 350 proposals, submitted last April, from organizations in 44 states that offered scalable approaches for spurring energy efficiency retrofits in existing buildings. Grants totaling $2.7 million went to nine winners, which were evaluated by a panel of experts in real estate, finance, construction, government policy and energy efficiency technologies.

“In the past, people would buy a house without any real understanding of its ongoing energy costs.   Establishing an energy efficiency category, within MLS listings, will help during the selection process by providing homebuyers with another essential piece of information,” Weitz said.

If it’s successful, who knows, maybe someday the real estate mantra will no longer be ‘location, location, location,’ but instead, ‘efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.’

Elisa Wood is co-author of “Energy Efficiency Incentives for Businesses 2010: Eastern States,” available at

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Why would they not use the UK method of Energy Performance Certificates? Showing the energy efficiency in the same A-G ratings as a domestic fridge etc?

  2. Fantastic blog! Thanks, Lisa! While your article captures the essence of what we are trying to achieve, I want to emphasize another essential aspect of this project: the key role that the MLS administrators will play. This valuable working group (made up of MLS representatives, realtors, builders and other stakeholders) will help us determine a viable and effective energy category for New York’s MLS system. CSG is entering this venture with a cooperative spirit, looking to establish a strong, productive partnership with this group. This will ensure the system is being informed by their vast industry experience and that it will be embraced going forward.

  3. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources was recently awarded $2.6 million from the US Department of Energy to pilot a consumer-oriented approach to energy efficiency assessments that includes providing homeowners with an “energy performance score” (EPS) both before and after completing efficiency upgrade work. The EPS is linked to MLS listings and other real estate-oriented sites, and the pilot includes training for real estate professionals regarding the score. Massachusetts’ three-year pilot will initially target single family homes and then expand to include two- and three-family homes in seven Western Massachusetts communities—Springfield, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Hampden, Wilbraham, Palmer, and Belchertown—representing approximately 57,000 homes. The pilot is part of a four-state project (Massachusetts, Alabama, Virginia, and Washington). For more information, see

  4. This metric has already been invented (some 20 years ago)! It is called the Home Energy Rating System (HERS). HERS was developed by the mortgage industry to help homeowners who want to build energy efficient homes. A HERS rating will halp a homeowner score points when applying for a mortgage. The money saved by an efficient home can be counted as “income” towards the mortgage calculations. This helps offset the initial cost of efficiency.

    For more go see: