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Will home energy efficiency inspections eventually become mandatory?

Posting in Energy

As the Swiss move to certify and catalog energy efficiency status of the nation's buildings, other countries watch progress

Everyone who has bought or sold a home has been subjected to all the requisite inspections that go along with the transaction – from termites to asbestos to radon.

A new government program in Switzerland, made possible through an application developed jointly with IT services company Keane, has me wondering how long it will be before you and I will be required to get some sort of green building inspection as part of the home selling or buying process. In short, will we eventually have to pay for energy certificates that rate the energy usage or insulation of our homes? Will local governments start basing tax formulas not just on size but on efficiency?

The Swiss government has developed a Web-based software application with Keane to do just that: catalog different data points about a home or building in order to gauge its energy efficiency and recommend ways that efficiency might be improved. The application, was developed by Keane in conjunction with the Swiss Federal Office of Energy and the Conference of the Energy Directors of the Cantons.

Christopher Berger, general manager of continental Europe for Keane, says while many European countries are studying similar programs the Swiss approach appears to be the most detailed to date. Keane was responsible for developing the interface to the application, which works in conjunction with a questionnaire (about 18 or 20 pages long) that can be used by professional engineers to collect information about a given building. The results are generated in the form of an energy certification.

There is a fee associated with the process of getting an energy certificate, although the launch phase is being subsidized to encourage Swiss citizens to get on board, Berger says. There were 15,000 orders placed for the certification process during the first three days, he says. During the first five months, 20,000 certifications were completed.

The certification is not mandatory, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future -- in Switzerland or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.

The Swiss government is using the information from the certificates to create a database that can be used for reference in the future, so, but subjecting themselves to the certification, building owners are making their data public. The overriding agenda of the Swiss government, according to Keane, was to help reduce utility bills for its citizens. (There are about 7 million people in the country.) There are also potential commercial benefits. Organizations such as the MINERGIE Agency have embraced the certifications as a way to study sustainability and energy efficiency expectations for new versus refurbished buildings.

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure