When you buy a house, there’s no clear way to know what you’re getting.  There’s no miles per gallon sticker, as with cars, or nutrition label, as with foods.  You’ll pay for an inspection and walk through the place any number of times, but you definitely can’t see through the walls.  It’s strange that we allow ourselves to spend, or mortgage, so much with so little information.

But recently, we’ve seen several efforts to change this.  Michelle Kaufmann once released a white paper on nutrition labels for homes, and the climate bill from last year included a building energy labeling provision.  Local legislators are even looking at requiring property sellers to provide energy audit data to purchasers upon listing or prior to sale.

In the Pacific Northwest, momentum is building for the Energy Performance Score, which was conceived by the folks at the Earth Advantage Institute.  The non-profit company, you may recall, published a list of green building trends for 2010 and one trend was energy labeling on homes and office buildings.

EPS is a rating of the total energy consumption of a home with an associated carbon emission score.  To get the score, a trained professional conducts an EPS audit by collecting utility bill information; measuring and sketching the home; recording window type and shading, insulation values, exterior and interior lighting fixtures, and appliances; inspecting ducts; and performing a blower door test.

Picture above is a snapshot of the EPS scorecard, and you can view the rest of the information here [PDF].

In a recent press release, Earth Advantage Institute says task forces have been created by Oregon and Washington legislatures to explore the potential for mandatory energy labeling at the time of listing a property for sale.  Already, Oregon is using EPS voluntarily for new homes, while Seattle is testing a 5,000-home pilot for existing residences.

Tom Bruenig, director of communications and marketing for the Earth Advantage Institute, recently explained to Jetson Green how EPS is used in the Pacific Northwest.  Currently, in Oregon, the Energy Trust of Oregon pays for the cost of the EPS audit on new homes, while in Seattle, the city pays for most of the cost of the EPS audit and the homeowner pays $95.00.  The cost of an EPS audit is about half that of a HERS audit.

On the federal level, in September 2009, the EPA and DOE entered into a memorandum of understanding, which includes a plan to create a building energy labeling scheme to compare actual energy use of existing buildings.  Bruenig tells us that Earth Advantage Institute has met with these agencies to share the successes of EPS.

So we see support brewing for EPS and building energy labeling at the local, state, and federal levels.  There’s a lot of movement here.  Once the building energy label gets rolling, at some point, we’d like to see water data included on the same label, but we’ll see where things go for now.

If you like EPS and want to support the program, it’s in the running as a finalist for America’s Top Ten Best Ideas for America at Change.org, where you can vote to push it to the top.

Media credit: Earth Advantage Institute.