UO students score local rental properties for energy efficiency

The University of Oregon and a Eugene utility company recently partnered to begin a new program offering free energy efficiency assessments for Eugene area rental properties.

The UO Office of Sustainability started the Home Energy SCORE Program two weeks ago. Students working with the program are sent out in pairs to assess local rental properties using the U.S. Department of Energy’s Home Energy Score to rate the home’s energy efficiency.

Amelia Burnett and Abigail Graham are interior architecture students at the UO and employees of the program. During a home assessment they measured windows and ceiling heights to make sure they lined up with previous records from Eugene Water and Electric Board — the partner company in the program. Types and sizes of windows determine how much heat can escape for the home.

Steve Mital, the UO Office of Sustainability Director and EWEB Board of Directors member, who oversees the program, said, “The window square footage and ceiling heights are needed to ensure apples to apples comparisons to other homes.”

As part of the assessment, the two students removed an outlet cover to check for insulation in the walls and used an infrared camera to check for heat escaping the room. Outside the house, they inspected roof vents, openings in the foundation and the coloring and style of the roofing material. According to the assessment team, the lighter the color of roofing, the more heat it reflects — an important factor in energy conservation.

The current program evolved from $CORE, a program started by a UO student in 2012. Originally the program aimed to supply students who lived off campus with “freebies” like energy efficient light bulbs, low-flow shower heads and weather stripping.

According to Mital, there are still programs in place through EWEB to assist renters with improving their scores; however, the current program through the Office of Sustainability is no longer focusing on “freebies.”

Mital said that with the new format, the program expanded to the entire Eugene area, instead of being limited to students. The program mainly focuses on low-income renters.

Unlike $CORE, The Home Energy SCORE Program requires access to an attic in order to asses the insulation, ductwork and whether or not the space is vented. This means scores cannot be given to apartments.  

“We are doing 240 assessments this year. We have kinda mapped that out,” Mital said. “It will take about 20 weeks to complete all that work and we are two weeks in.”

Julie Havelka, a current tenant, scheduled an assessment because she was unhappy with the heat in her home and wanted to know how efficient her home was.  

Pointing to her heavy sweatpants and layered shirts, Havelka said her home is always cold, which is burdensome because she works from home.

Students give each property a score of 1-10 after the assessment. Renters, as well as the property owner, are sent the score once information from the inspection is compiled and analyzed.

The students employed by the program were required to obtain certifications and training to get the job. The eight students selected have all completed certain courses from the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts as well.

The City of Eugene contributed $10,000 to the program, which covers the labor for the assessments, according to Mital. EWEB provided $3,000 for the students’ training and certifications.

Kim Carson, Co-Curricular and Monitoring Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, oversees the scheduling and fills in for students on assessments.

In terms of what the Office of Sustainability spends on the program, “It basically comes down to Kim’s hours,” said Mital. Carson said she usually spends eight hours a week on the program, but that number can be as high as 16 hours a week depending on whether or not she goes on assessments with students.

While the new program format is just getting started, Mital said, “This year we’re focused on a successful pilot.  That’s the first and most important step towards making a case for on-going funding.”

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Desiree Bergstrom

Desiree Bergstrom