Home energy audits can prevent sticker shock for home buyers

Gretchen Ertl For The Boston Globe/File

WHEN A CONSUMER hunts for a new car, there’s an important selling point slapped on the window: a sticker that lists crucial fuel economy data. Developed and tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, the so-called MPG sticker allows true comparison shopping, new-car smell aside.

So why not provide similar information for the largest purchase most people make: a home. A bill with bipartisan support on Beacon Hill would allow Massachusetts to become the first state in the nation to do just that: create a scorecard with data about how much it costs to heat a home.

Homeowners got an unwelcome reminder of the importance of fuel costs this winter, when a cold snap drove up heating bills. Maybe that’s why this common-sense measure has support from Governor Baker, environmentalists, the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, ABCD, and scores of legislators.


Under the proposed legislation, a homeowner and prospective seller would get a free energy audit from an organization like Mass Save. The audit would flag inefficient heating systems, leaky windows, or lack of insulation, and the data would be provided on a scorecard. The card would also recommend cost-effective improvements. What it wouldn’t do: require the seller to spend money on those improvements. Instead, the measure is aimed at empowering the buyer by disclosing energy performance as part of a home sale transaction — a worthy bit of consumer protection in a region stocked with drafty, antique homes. The bill also makes for sound environmental policy. Small steps like upgrading insulation or replacing ancient heating systems mean consuming less heating oil, electricity, or natural gas, and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

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So what’s the holdup? The real estate industry, which has a visiting day scheduled Thursday on Beacon Hill, has pushed back hard. The bill has been tabled in the House. State Representative Tom Golden, a realtor and chair of the committee on telecommunications, utilities, and energy, says the bill is disruptive to the sales process and would put sellers with a poor scorecard at a disadvantage.

But the proposal should be seen as a basic consumer protection. And the industry overstates the risks. Legislation would be phased in over time in order to allow Mass Save and others to develop a scorecard and train auditors. Realtors also argue that the bill could harm lower-income homeowners, who have less money to pay for energy efficiency upgrades and might have lower scores. Yet the state has programs in place to subsidize weatherization and new heating systems. And low-income buyers also have the most to gain: Poorer homeowners are most vulnerable if they end up unknowingly buying an oil-guzzling Nightmare on Main Street.

The simple, but innovative idea has been kicking around Beacon Hill for years, and Governor Baker deserves credit for embracing it . Now it’s up to the Legislature.