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Community and Q&A

“Utility Score” is now showing up in Colorado MLS searches

Kevin Dickson, MSME | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Finally there is a pretty good way for house hunters to evaluate the energy efficiency of homes that are on the market.

I love the fact that the rating is in dollars per month, the only metric that is meaningful to the average homebuyer. Smaller homes have a lower bill, as expected.

Do any other states have this yet?

https://www.myutilityscore.com/

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Replies

  1. Stephen Sheehy | | #1

    Looks like nonsense to me. The score isn't based on any specific attributes to the house in question, but rather is based on utility rates and climate in a given area.

  2. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #2

    The first 10 addresses I entered into it (all single family homes in the US in multiple states, right out of my private address book) came back with an error about not covering multifamily or non residential homes.

    This is despite the claim that they have coverage on all single family homes in the US.

    It's crummy broken prototype of an app that needs a lot more polish before it can even RUN, let alone provide any useful information.

  3. Robert Opaluch | | #3

    I looked up addresses for homes I've lived in. Cape Cod MA, metro Providence RI, Boulder, CO, LA metro, CA, Silicon Valley N CA, Eatontown, NJ. They all had scores listed for those homes and around those areas. Whenever I entered only a city and state (not street address), it responded that "Oops! UtilityScore does not cover multi-family and non-residential properties. We currently have coverage for all single-family homes in the United States."

    However the scores themselves seem very inaccurate. CO has lower utility rates than New England, yet scores are much lower (worse), even for a neighborhood with more energy efficient homes. One home loaded with PV gets a low score. Its almost like the low score should be better, higher score worse, but that's not what it says.

    For balmy Santa Monica beach, LA metro area, CA (not needing heating and rarely needing AC), the scores are better than 1950's era Providence metro small homes, but they overlap. Should be vastly different. Same for N CA which has no winter vs. New England, similar scores.

    Maybe they just look at the electric bill?

    In any case, this tool is for people to compare homes they are buying. So they should be comparing homes with the same utility rates and climate. Can't comment on whether it might be accurate locally, but doubt its accuracy after doing comparisons. We all know usage is a big function of present occupants. I've compared my electric bill to renters of my former house and see big differences for an all-electric superinsulated home in sunny, cold winter CO. But regardless, older poorly insulated homes should get scores way lower than a newly built superinsulated home in the same town.

  4. Stephen Sheehy | | #4

    They don't look at bills or insulation levels or heating source or anything specific to a house. It's all climate and whatever utility info gets inputted. Even then, the algorithm doesn't know if you heat with gas, oil, wood or burning twenty dollars bills.
    I tried my addresses, present and former, and got what Dana got, i.e. We don't cover multifamily homes, etc.

  5. Utility_Score | | #5

    Hello! UtilityScore here. We've tracked some traffic from this page and wanted to get a chance to respond to all of your concerns and questions about our website. We really appreciate the feedback as we are a 6 people start up thriving for excellence :)

    1. Error message
    Thank you so much for pointing that out. Our site was down for maintenance for a few hours on April 8, and we apologize for the bad user experience. If you have the chance to try again, those addresses should now work. We are also exclusively address based as of now, we only give results for single family homes and searching for a place from our home page (ex: Oakland, CA) doesn’t work.

    2. What is the UtilityScore metric based on?
    UtilityScore provides utility bill and savings estimates based on property characteristics, local utility rates, and local climate data. Based on these estimates, we created a unique score for each single family home in the United States.
    The UtilityScore tells you how well a home’s utility bills stack up to other homes in that area. We look at electricity, natural gas, water & sewer rates. Homes with lower utility bills that use less energy and water will earn higher scores than homes with higher bills that use more energy and water.
    The scores are calibrated to that home’s local area—we compare a home in Denver to other homes in the Denver area, not to homes in Honolulu. For most homebuyers and homeowners, they want to know how their home compares to others in the area. As a result, homes that aren’t in the same climate zone/metropolitan zones aren’t comparable by the UtilityScore metric. For an apples-to-apples comparison of homes across multiple regions, please look at the total estimated utility bill.

    3. Factors we take into account in our calculation
    We do take many individual home characteristics into account, in addition to climate and utility rates data. We take into account home size, lot area, home age, heating fuel, presence of a pool, presence of solar, and other data points provided from the public record. We are currently expanding our Home Facts feature to include most home improvement projects (e.g., window, heating, air conditioning, hot water heating, etc.) that impact utility bills. This will allow homeowners, contractors, and real estate agents to update the profile of the home to increase the accuracy of the estimated utility bills and savings.

    4. What about insulation?
    While we don’t have specific insulation information for most homes, we make assumptions about a home’s insulation and leakiness based on its year of construction and the location of the home. These two data points help us make good assumptions about the building codes in the time and place the home was built, and the overall energy performance of a home. In many cases we can augment this home age assumption with more recent home permit data, or data from homeowners and real estate professionals via UtilityScore Home Facts. The more we know about your home, the more accurately we can hone in on your home’s actual performance, and the better we can recommend ways to save money and boost your score.

    5. How to correct and refine our estimates
    Behavior and occupancy does indeed have a big impact on utility bills (ex: Two families occupying identical properties may have very different behavior and energy usage). For our baseline results, we assume occupancy of three people and typical behavior. However, users can refine the estimates by indicating the number of occupants, preferred thermostat settings, and if the home will be occupied during the work week. Homeowners can also claim their home and update their Home Facts to increase accuracy of the saving estimates.

    If you have more questions, we would love to help out! Feel free to reach to us here or at [email protected]

    Best,

    Elise Z. from the UtilityScore team.

  6. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #6

    Elise,

    Thanks so much for weighing in!

    I'm listing a near zero energy home next week in Denver.

    Is there a way to enter the size of the PV system or the HERS score?

  7. Stephen Sheehy | | #7

    I remain highly skeptical that anyone is incorporating any specific data whatsoever from the tens of millions of houses in the country.While maybe homeowners will incorporate some data into the site, most won't. General information many be useful for someone, but a prospective homebuyer will not learn much.
    My single family house is still not listed because they don't include multifamily units.

  8. Jon R | | #8

    > Homes with lower utility bills that use less energy and water will earn higher scores
    > No, we do not base estimates on past bills.

    Sounds inconsistent to me.

  9. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #9

    Surely this is why huge companies like Google buy companies like Nest? You need to invest in gathering vast amounts of comprehensive data on every house for the results to have any meaning. It's hard to see how a small start-up mining publicly available information can at this point provide useful results.

  10. Utility_Score | | #10

    Hi again,

    To Kevin Dickson: yes, you should be able to claim the home (given that it's a single family home) and update the home facts, including the size of the PV system. Once this is updated on our website, it will be updated on all our partner and customer websites (e.g., real estate websites).

    To Stephen Sheehy: We agree with you that the majority of home profiles will not be updated by homeowners or real estate pros. We receive monthly updates of property tax assessor data and permit data for all 84M single family homes. We also get bulk uploads from contractors and soon will be getting data from home inspectors. For example, we have solar installers uploading thousands of installed projects at a time into our Home Facts database. We will soon be receiving similar bulk uploads from window and HVAC contractors. In addition, utility rates for water, sewer, electricity and natural gas are updated every month for the whole country.

    To Jon R: UtilityScore estimates utility bills based on home characteristics, climate, and utility rates. We do not base estimates on past bills. The behaviors and number of people living in the home have an impact on the utility bill. We encourage homeowners to claim their home and update their Home Facts as well as use the lifestyle refinements (such as number of people living in the home or typical thermostat settings) for more accurate bill savings estimates.

    Elise

  11. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #11

    Elise,
    "UtilityScore estimates utility bills based on home characteristics, climate, and utility rates."

    Such estimates sound worthless to me.

    -- Martin Holladay

  12. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #12

    I dunno Martin, they probably won't be off by more than 100% or so (except in a worst case scenario.) ;-)

  13. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #13

    Martin,

    I disagree. A HERS score is an industry accepted rating standard for a house that can be used by well trained people to effectively compare the energy efficiency of individual homes. But it is worthless to homebuyers and realtors who can only grasp the concept of Dollars per Month (DPM).

    UtilityScore proposes to take a HERS score and supplement it with the missing data needed to convert it to Dollars per Month. You just mentioned the what's needed: home size, climate and utility rates. Occupant usage is an unknown variable, but Elise says, "we assume occupancy of three people and typical behavior."

    It doesn't matter if the resulting DPM number is accurate. It is the first useful metric for comparing homes in a way that an actual customer can understand.

    It's just like the EPA appliance rating system, and elegantly simple.

  14. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #14

    Kevin,
    Elise implied that this web site lists (or intends to list) 84 million single-family homes. I am certain that number exceeds by at least one order of magnitude the number of homes that have a HERS rating.

    So I can't imagine that the information is HERS-based. If the information is based on HERS Indexes, wouldn't Elise have mentioned that fact?

    -- Martin Holladay

  15. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #15

    Charlie,
    The evidence in favor of the "it's worthless" conclusion is mounting...

  16. Charlie Sullivan | | #16

    I just took a look at my house. It says I would be expected to spend $73/mo on natural gas. However, there is no natural gas service in the whole region! The nearest pipeline is about 50 miles away!

    The discussion here is about the limitations of an approach based on basic information like that. But if you don't even have the basic information like that correct, there's no hope.

    Edit: and then for fun, I went in and updated the information. I increased the size of the house, because we had a recent addition, and I changed the heating fuel to electric, since we use a heat pump and there was no option for heat pump. My score improved drastically, which makes no sense at all, since if we actually did heat with direct electric heat, the cost would be much more than with natural gas, and of course increasing this size should increase the energy consumption.

  17. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #17

    I just looked at my house. The web site reports:

    1. My water and sewer bill amounts to $84 a month. That's interesting, because I live in a town without any municipal water system or municipal sewage system. Every house in my town has its own well (or spring) and its own septic system.

    2. My electricity costs amount to $88 a month. That's interesting, because there are no electric lines anywhere near my house. The house is off the grid. The nearest electric pole is more than a mile away.

    3. My natural gas bill is $161 a month. That's interesting, because the nearest natural gas pipeline is in Burlington, Vermont, which is 88 miles away.

    So all three elements of my purported utility bills are not only way off -- they are physically impossible.

    -- Martin Holladay

  18. Charlie Sullivan | | #18

    Apparently, they assume that you need to drive to Burlington each month to get a jug of natural gas. The IRS reimbursement rate for the round-trip drive is $94. They count it as three hours of your time, valued at $20/hour, leaving you $7 to pay for filling your jug with natural gas, for a total of $161.

  19. Stephen Sheehy | | #19

    My new house is still among the missing, since they don't list multifamily dwellings. I don't know who the other family living in my house is.

    My former house, like Martin's, has a pretty high NG bill and water/sewer bill, in spite of having no NG within many miles, and a well and septic system.
    What a silly notion, using generalized data, often wrong, to allegedly provide highly specific information about specific houses.

  20. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #20

    I've seen a lot of silly web sites in my day, but this one, in my view, is by far the silliest. It isn't just meaningless -- it's deceptive.

    -- Martin Holladay

  21. Jon R | | #21

    Silly only for the users. If they get people to enter personal data, they can sell it.

  22. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #22

    Jon R,
    Good point! So many products and programs these days are just disguised data-collection schemes by companies anxious to sell your personal data -- "customer loyalty" cards, NEST thermostats, and (quite possibly) the web site we are discussing here. I think you hit the nail on the head.

    -- Martin Holladay

  23. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #23

    Data collection is a start. Someone has to massage the data into something understandable.
    A HERS score doesn't get the job done.

    As the data accumulates, the quality improves. Zillow started out with only MLS and public record data. After years of data quality improvement, they have replaced Craigslist as the go-to platform for rental houses, and succeeded as the equivalent of a nationwide multiple listing service. The data was improved by the homeowners and realtors who claimed the homes and entered better data.

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