COLUMBIA, Mo. – If you’re shopping for a car, you can compare miles per gallon. If you’re looking at refrigerators or other big appliances, you can check the EnergyStar label. But if you’re an energy-conscious homebuyer, it’s not easy to compare the efficiency of different houses.

That’s changing this year with the launch of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score, a voluntary national rating system for measuring a home’s energy efficiency and recommending how to improve it.

University of Missouri Extension has developed an online training course for certifying Home Energy Score assessors.

The program aims to reduce nationwide energy consumption, and help families save money and make informed decisions about buying a home or upgrading the efficiency of their current home, said Mary Myers, director of continuing education in the University of Missouri College of Engineering.

“It’s good for the potential homeowner because they can have an apples-to-apples rating of different homes they might buy and can get a specific slate of improvements that would impact efficiency, instead of spending money that may or may not help the efficiency,” Myers said.

Another goal is to create jobs by employing potentially thousands of trained assessors across the country and by spurring consumer demand for everything from insulation to energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

“We create other jobs in the construction business and manufacturing when people take the recommendations from these assessors and increase the efficiency of their houses,” Myers said.

A 2009 report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality noted that one barrier to making existing homes in the U.S. more energy efficient was that “most consumers do not have access to straightforward and reliable information about their home’s energy use.”

Right now, the only way to get an accurate look at a home’s energy efficiency usually is to opt for a full-scale energy audit, which can cost up to $1,000 and requires a team of technicians with specialized equipment such as blower doors and infrared sensors.

By contrast, a trained assessor using the Home Energy Score system can walk through a house, rate its energy efficiency on a scale of 1 to 10, and recommend energy improvements, Myers said. The process takes less than an hour and is expected to cost homeowners less than $50.

Though the process is simple, there’s a lot of sophisticated technology behind it. The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California developed the Home Energy Score system, building on years of research and detailed computer simulations.

To determine a Home Energy Score, an assessor collects information about the house. “We go in and get the square footage of the home, we look at insulation in the attic, the AC, the furnace, anything that could be a contributing factor in the energy output of the home,” said Gabe Kelley, who recently completed the online training and field testing.

Web-based software analyzes that information to produce a score and recommendations. In areas where wireless Internet access is available, the assessor can enter the information into a laptop or tablet computer, generate a report and email it to the client right on the spot.

The report includes estimated energy cost savings over 10 years if the owner makes the recommended upgrades.

The scoring system was refined during a series pilot of studies in 10 states in 2010 and 2011. In June, the final pilot study, conducted on a handful of homes in mid-Missouri, using Home Energy Score Qualified Assessors (HESQAs) who completed the MU Extension training program.

Spirit Foundation, a Missouri-based nonprofit that specializes in job training in the fields of energy efficiency and sustainability, is administering and coordinating the training program.

After the official rollout, which Myers says is likely to happen in September, the program will begin training nationwide. Among the first Home Energy Score trainees will be individuals already certified to evaluate home energy use by BPI or RESNET, two organizations that set training standards for home energy efficiency professionals.

“This will provide them with the benefit of adding the Home Energy Score to their current audits and other programs,” she said.

MU Extension is also coordinating with the U.S. Navy to offer the training to wounded veterans returning from Afghanistan.

Home Energy Score assessors will go to work for Energy Department partners, including utility companies, Spirit Foundation, the American Society of Home Inspectors and the Clinton Foundation’s building retrofit program.

“Eventually, the general public will be able to go through the MU training and conduct Home Energy Scores,” Myers added.

Legislation is also pending to offer homeowner incentives for completing a Home Energy Score and implementing its recommendations,” she said. “This will create jobs nationwide, involve communities in sustainability, and lower America’s dependence on foreign oil.”

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