The competition for homes in Portland
is intense, with offers landing well above
the asking price, and more and more
people showing up with cash in hand
to outbid even the most qualified of
You’ll find charming bungalows and
modern high-rises across the city and
surrounding suburbs, but buying a
home will require some dedication and
One of the many draws to living in Portland, Oregon, is how quickly you can
escape the urban area. While most cities
stretch out as they grow, turning rural areas
into suburban sprawl, Oregon law has
established an urban growth boundary to
control urban expansion, and protect farms
and forest that surround Oregon’s cities.
Thanks to the urban growth boundary, a
short drive will land you in the countryside
where fresh air, trees, and farms abound.
The land within the urban growth boundary
supports the development of metropol-
itan infrastructures, like roads, water and
sewer systems, parks, schools, and fire and
police protections, while land outside of the
boundary is protected from urban sprawl, to
preserve the abundance of nature and local
farmers that area residents depend on.
In order to keep up with the housing
demand and preserve the farms and forest
that surround Portland, urban infill has been
utilized to optimize the use of already developed areas. Infill is an urban planning term,
defined as the use of land within a built-up
area for further construction. More specifically, abandoned lots and underutilized spaces
are converted into homes to serve the rising
demand, without taking over more land.
Portland has a reputation for urban
sustainability. In 1991, zoning changes
were approved by the city to redevelop
existing urban land into housing. This led
to developers purchasing lots, subdividing
them into much smaller lots, and building
contextually inappropriate tract housing
on those slivers of land. (Tract housing
is a type of development in which nearly
identical houses are built on a tract of
subdivided land.) The intention was good
— building more houses in the space that
existed — but the result was visually unappealing to many neighborhood residents.
The “Living Smart” program was launched
in Portland in 2003 and ran through 2011,
in response to that rise in small lot, tract
housing. This program limited infill to
currently vacant lots and added design
requirements, ensuring that new properties would not become an eyesore on
the existing neighborhood. This led to a
dialogue between designers and builders,
and an international competition was
launched to encourage design firms and
individuals to design houses with specifically defined, compact parameters.
Entrants were encouraged to use sustainable approaches to their designs. Winning
designs were chosen and became models
not only for Portland, but for international
The City of Portland requires home energy scores for homes listed or
advertised for sale (new, as of January 1, 2018). The score helps you
compare homes by revealing expected energy costs.
What’s the home energy score?
It’s a standard measure used to compare the energy costs
of one home to another. Developed by the U. S. Department
of Energy, the score is produced by authorized local energy
Who needs a score?
Single family detached homes or side-by-side townhouses
listed for sale inside Portland city limits need a score.
What does a score mean?
The score is a number between 1 (low) and 10 (high). 5 is
average. Higher-score homes are less expensive to operate.
Can you improve the score?
Yes! A home energy report includes a list of cost-effective
upgrades. For most homes this means some combination
of insulation, air sealing, and furnace or water heater
replacement. Upgraded homes usually re-score higher.
After I buy, how do I get started with upgrades?
The non-profit Enhabit helps you navigate upgrades, get
bids from qualified contractors, and connects you with
financing. Schedule a no-cost 15-minute phone consultation at enhabit.org or call (971) 544-8710.
About the City of Portland’s
Home Energy Score