Just Tell It Like It Is: Energy Labels for Homes
In their better natures, I truly believe people really do like to help. Whether it's holding a door for the elderly or giving unsolicited advice to a friend, people are often taking action for the "benefit" of others. Often times this "help" is not perceived as such, rather its viewed as interference or suspiciously regarded as a play for a favor in return. The older man takes it as an affront to his fitness ("Don't hold the door for me sonny!") or "mind your own business" from the friend who didn't ask for advice. It seems to me that oftentimes people overthink a situation, rather than communicating in a straightforward way.
The creation of energy labels for homes has suffered from this same predicament. Over the years there have been several attempts to create a metric that could represent the energy efficiency of a home, and lately they have proliferated; the EUI (Energy Use Index), HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Score, HERS Index, HES (Home Energy Score), Microsoft HOHM Score, Energy Savvy Score, EPS (Energy Performance Score) and more will populate the landscape. The idea for each was to be "helpful" and provide a method for interested people to compare home's. The trouble is most of these utilize a system categorizing energy use or indexing energy use that makes the final numbers less "useful" in my view. Let me explain.
All these metrics have one thing at their core, an estimate of the home's energy use produced by a software program. Each estimate involves more or less data collection, and more or less expertise for the individual generating the score. Some, like the HERS Index, require a highly trained professional to collect and process a large number of house characteristics with the results expressed in a 0-100+ scale. Others, like the Energy Savvy Score, are generated by homeowners answering pretty basic questions about their home, but it is also expressed as a 0-100 score. The fact that the scores are both 0-100 but the scores mean radically different things is definitely confusing. Since they are both based off the estimated total annual energy use of the home, why not "just tell it like it is" and provide that estimate.
People are smart, they don't need a layer of logic placed over the information they want to know. In my mind it is unnecessary to create a 0-100 index system, or a 1-10 bin system, energy use per square foot, or any other abstraction. All we need to provide is the estimate of the total annual energy use. If it's a preliminary score, inform the viewer that "this is a preliminary score". Conversely, if it's from a trained expert, make it clear it's from a trained expert by calling it "verified, certified" or something similar.
This "Tell it like it is" mentality is what led our team at Earth Advantage to promote utilizing total annual energy use as a metric for creating energy labels. Total energy has been combined with an estimate of the associated carbon emissions to represent the Energy Performance Score. These dual metrics, energy and carbon, are portrayed alongside benchmarks of typical and advanced performance. These benchmarks give people some context, just like the nurse's comment about my blood pressure.
To return to my initial sentiments, I truly think every energy labeling scheme has been born out of nothing but the best intentions. My beef is that these systems try to be too clever, they try to spoon feed the information to the general public with a 1-10 or a 1-100 rating system. The assumptions required to do this are too complicated. Just give people the basic estimates and some reference points, they'll figure it out.