Homes for sale may require environmental report card

Calgary Real Estate Board proposes home energy audits

If your house has leaky windows inadequate heating and shoddy insulation you may want to make some upgrades. That’s because the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB) is poised to implement a program to grade your home’s energy efficiency when it goes up for sale.

The main goal of the “green-rating” program throughout the Calgary area is to give buyers detailed information about the energy performance of homes they are interested in purchasing. A pilot project is slated to begin this summer.

“There’s a sense from the consumer and realtors that there’s value to a green home” says Diane Scott CREB’s new president. “So now it’s up to us as an organization to put it where we can see what the value is.”

A feasibility study recently approved by CREB looks at various ways to create an energy labelling system of homes posted on the Multiple Listing Service. The study recommends using the federal government’s EnerGuide 100-point rating system with zero being the least energy efficient and 100 being the most efficient. In 2005 the average Canadian home had a rating of 66 on the EnerGuide scale.

“It’s very simple consumers already understand it and it’s comprehensive in that it does include new and existing homes” says Elizabeth Huculak a consultant for the study. “We weren’t really looking to re-create a new labelling system because adding another one to an already extensive array of certification programs wasn’t going to be a value to the industry as a whole.”

Even though the study states “…there is support in the industry to proceed” Calgary builders who have been using a different home energy rating system for the past few years aren’t so enthusiastic.

“The last thing the world needs is another green label” says David Bengert manager of Jayman MasterBuilt’s national purchasing. “We’re hoping they do something that ties in with what we’re already doing because there is already several thousand homes in Calgary that already have a Built Green label to them.”

Bengert who is also president of the Built Green Society of Canada which has branded almost 13000 homes in Alberta and B.C. since 2004 with its home energy rating system says consumers can get very confused with multiple programs that “essentially do the same thing.”

Other countries are far ahead on energy labelling as well as educating consumers on being more aware and responsible about home energy efficiency.

Home energy labelling is mandatory in the U.K. and California. Last year the Ontario government passed legislation that gives homebuyers the right to ask for an energy assessment. The B.C. government recently received a strong recommendation from an environmental advisory group to introduce mandatory labelling by 2012 using the EnerGuide model. And now the Alberta government is reviewing recommendations to increase the existing minimum standards for energy efficiency in building codes.

In December the Victoria Real Estate Board launched a six-month energy labelling pilot project in Oak Bay and Salt Spring Island using the EnerGuide system. Homeowners participating in the trial program are eligible for a slew of government and utility company rebates including a reduction in the cost of a home energy assessment from $300 to $75. To qualify for the rebates participants have to post the rating on their sale listing.

Victoria’s pilot project should help other jurisdictions plan similar initiatives says Jim Bennet a Victoria-based realtor who led the initiative. His board is already hearing concerns from owners of older homes.

“They’re afraid they’re going to get a poor assessment at the time of sale and they’re a bit leery” he says. “If you haven’t heard that from realtors in Calgary yet you’ll no doubt be hearing that at some stage.”

CREB has plenty of work to do before implementing and introducing the program. The feasibility study suggests CREB develops a “green realtor” certification program and provides realtors with information on energy evaluation service providers rebate programs renovators and renovation loans to assist homebuyers and sellers. As well it needs to establish a “comprehensive database” that can be accessed by mortgage lenders and appraisers.

Rod Vermunt a Calgary realtor who promotes his business as “eco-friendly” advises his clients to have energy audits done before they put their homes on the market. “A lot of the people that are out there looking right now especially under the age of 35 are certainly looking for that extra benefit to saving some energy not just for dollars and cents but for helping the environment as well.”

Those who believe environmental upgrades to their homes will naturally translate into profit may be in for a surprise says Vermunt. “A person can spend tens of thousands of dollars making all kinds of improvements to their home but it really hasn’t translated that much into the consumer looking to pay the extra dollar for a much more efficient home” he says.

CREB acknowledges this in its report summary claiming there “is little substantive data to support the valuation of energy upgrades.”

An accessible and more visible home energy rating system could sway potential buyers towards purchasing homes that score higher on an energy-efficiency scale says Vermunt. “It’s only a disadvantage to those people who aren’t willing to do their part to help the environment or spend the dollars” he says.