It’s easier than you may think to enjoy the savings and comfort of an energy-efficient home. Since an energy-efficient home is cost-effective, there are financing programs available from mortgages to home improvement loans, which allow more people the opportunity to live in such a home.
You can benefit from energy-efficient financing whether you’re buying, selling, refinancing, or remodeling a home. If you’re looking to buy an energy-efficient home, you can qualify for a better, more comfortable home because with lower utility costs, you can afford a slightly larger mortgage payment. You can also obtain financing to make energy-efficient improvements to an older home before moving in or to your existing home. And if you put your home on the market, you can use its energy efficiency as an attractive selling point.
Home Energy Rating
Most energy-efficient financing programs will encourage you to have an energy rating for your new or existing home, which will tell you and the lender how energy efficient it is. A rating typically involves an inspection by a professional energy rater who is certified under a nationally or state accredited home energy rating system (HERS). There are several options regarding HERS, so the type of HERS used will depend on where you live. Some states even have more than one HERS. Some of the organizations listed at the end of this fact sheet may be able to provide you with more information regarding HERS in your state. Here’s an example of a HERS and its reports.
For the most part, an energy rater will inspect the energy-related features of a home, such as insulation levels, window efficiency, heating and cooling systems, and air leakage. After the inspection, the energy rater will probably give you a report that includes the home’s energy rating along with an estimation of annual energy use and costs. The report also may include recommended energy-efficient improvements, if needed, and their costs, as well as the potential annual savings and eventual payback of the improvements.
To help qualify for most energy-efficient financing, the report usually must show that the home is energy-efficient or that recommended improvements are cost-effective and will save you more money than you’d be borrowing to install them. While calculating whether a borrower qualifies for a mortgage, a lender can recognize these savings and add the cost of the improvements into the mortgage. Or, if the home is already energy-efficient, the lender can stretch the debt-to-income qualifying ratio, which is expressed as a percentage (the ratio is calculated by dividing a borrower’s monthly payment obligation on long-term debts by the borrower’s net effective income or gross monthly income).
The cost of a home energy rating and how it can be paid—by the borrower, the seller, the lender, the real estate agent, or financed as part of the mortgage—as well as the availability of certified energy raters, can vary from state to state and from one energy-efficient financing program to another.
Energy-Efficient Financing Programs
You can apply for energy-efficient financing through a government-insured or conventional loan program. Some states even have programs for their residents, so it’s a good idea to contact your state energy office to find out if your state does.
There are two types of energy-efficient mortgages (EEMs): one for a new home and one for an existing home. With an EEM, you can purchase or refinance a home that is already energy-efficient. Or you can purchase or refinance a home that will become energy-efficient after energy saving improvements are made. Most energy-efficient financing programs offer both types of EEMs, as well as home improvement loans for making energy efficiency upgrades to your existing home. Here’s an example of how an EEM can save you money.
Here’s an overview of some of the energy-efficient financing programs available. Each program is subject to change; therefore, you should contact a program directly for the most current, detailed information.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) insures mortgage and home improvement loans, through its approved lenders, for borrowers who would not otherwise qualify for conventional loans on affordable terms, such as some first-time home buyers and some residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods.
FHA Energy-Efficient Mortgage – FHA allows borrowers to finance the cost of adding energy-efficient improvements to new or existing homes as part of their FHA-insured purchase or refinancing mortgage.
- Energy-efficient improvement costs of $4,000 or 5 percent of the property value (up to $8,000), whichever is greater, can be financed.
- The FHA maximum mortgage limit for an area may be exceeded by the cost of the improvements.
- No additional down payment is required.
- No requalifying is necessary.
- No new appraisal is needed.
- Up to $200 of the cost of a home energy rating may be included in the mortgage.
This EEM can be used in conjunction with several other FHA-insured mortgages, including the 203(k) rehabilitation mortgage insurance described below.
FHA Section 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance – FHA Section 203(k) rehabilitation mortgage insurance provides a borrower with a single loan that covers both the purchase or refinancing and the cost of major home improvements, including those that save energy. The program allows borrowers to complete improvements after the loan closes. The funds are placed in an escrow account and released as improvements are made.
Total cost of improvements must exceed $5,000.
The total property value must still fall within the FHA mortgage limit for the area. (The property value is determined by whichever is less: the value before the rehabilitation plus the cost of the rehabilitation or 110 percent of the appraised value after rehabilitation.)
FHA Energy-Efficient Home Mortgage – When purchasing an energy-efficient home, an FHA-approved lender can stretch the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio by 2 percent.
FHA Mortgage Increase for Solar Thermal Systems – The maximum loan limit under FHA’s standard 203(b) or 203(k) property rehabilitation mortgage insurance can be exceeded by 20 percent if the home has or will have a passive or active solar heating system. The home must also have a 100 percent operational, conventional backup system.
FHA Title I Property Improvement Loan Insurance – FHA also insures home improvement loans, including those that will make a home more energy-efficient, for homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages. It features:
- Loans up to $25,000 for a single-family home
- Loans insured up to 20 years
- No required home energy rating reports.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guarantees mortgage loans for veterans with active duty service and qualified reservists. Its EEM can be used to purchase or refinance a home along with the cost of making energy-efficient improvements. To cover the cost of the improvements, the loan amount can be increased:
- Up to $3,000 based solely on documented costs
- Up to $6,000 if the increase in the mortgage payment is offset by the expected reduction in utility costs.
- More than $6,000 based on a value determination by VA.
A VA refinancing loan may not exceed 90 percent of the home’s appraised value plus the costs of the improvements.
Most of the national lenders who offer energy-efficient financing operate through one of the following programs.
ENERGY STAR® Mortgage
The ENERGY STAR® Homes program—sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—promotes voluntary partnerships with home builders to construct new homes that are 30 percent more efficient than the guidelines established by the Model Energy Code—a "model" national standard for residential energy efficiency.
The program also encourages lenders to provide EEMs for certified ENERGY STAR® homes. An ENERGYSTAR® mortgage offers a minimum 2 percent stretch on a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio, plus at least one additional incentive for borrowers. Incentives may include:
- A lower interest rate
- A discount on closing costs and/or origination fees
- Up to a 4 percent extension of the debt-to-income ratio stretch
- Paying for the cost of the home energy rating.
Fannie Mae—a private, shareholder-owned corporation—operates under a congressional charter that directs it to channel efforts into increasing the availability and affordability of homeownership. It doesn’t lend money directly to home buyers; it purchases mortgages from lenders, ensuring that funds are available.
Energy-Efficient Mortgage – Fannie Mae encourages lenders to offer its EEM by providing incentives and specific criteria for those that it’s willing to purchase from lenders. Both existing and new homes fall under this EEM.
- Several approved home energy rating methods and programs, not just a HERS, are allowed to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency.
- For existing homes, the cost of improvements is limited to 15 percent of its total cost. There is no limit imposed on the cost of improvements for new construction.
- A home buyer can finance 100 percent of the energy efficiency improvements without increasing the down payment.
Residential Energy Efficiency Improvement Loan – Fannie Mae is partnering with utility companies to provide loans to utility customers for the installation of energy-efficient home improvements. The loans feature:
- A below-market interest rate
- An unsecured financing option
- Up to $15,000
- A term of up to 10 years
- A "whole-house" or bundled approach to efficiency improvements.
Freddie Mac is a stockholder-owned, congressionally chartered corporation that works to create a continuous flow of funds to mortgage lenders in support of homeownership and rental housing. It purchases mortgages from lenders and packages them into securities that are sold to investors, providing homeowners and renters with lower housing costs and better access to home financing.
Energy-Efficient Mortgage – Like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac provides incentives and criteria, as well as flexible guidelines, for EEMs that it’s willing to buy, which encourage lenders to offer them. However, the EEMs are limited to purchasing existing energy-efficient homes or those to be retrofitted or renovated for energy efficiency.
- Several home energy rating methods and/or documentation, not just a HERS report, are acceptable.
- Lenders can exceed the standard 2 percent debt-to-income stretch at their own discretion.
- It allows a broader range of energy-efficient improvements than most EEM programs.
When it comes to energy-efficient financing—whether you want to purchase, refinance, or remodel a home—it’s best to work with lenders and/or real estate agents who are familiar with home energy ratings and program requirements. If you’d like a home energy rating report, it’s also best to work with a certified energy rater. In all instances, it’s always a good idea to ask for references and check companies with your local better business bureau.
Credit: U.S. Department of Energy