How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home

Man comparing energy sources

When you’re in the market for a new house, there are a lot of factors to consider — the school district, the number of bathrooms, the backyard swimming pool. But don’t overlook one important consideration that could make a difference of thousands of dollars over the life of the home: how efficient is it? The more energy the home conserves, the less you pay each month. Make a solid long-term investment even better by finding a house that will keep your utility bills to a minimum.

What to Look For

When you are touring a home, keep an eye out for features that will limit your energy usage:

  • The appliances are a good place to start. Does the house have an ancient refrigerator or antique furnace still creaking away? If so, get ready for high utility bills. However, if you find a home that’s stocked with newer equipment that complies with federal ENERGY STAR-efficiency requirements, you’ll be sitting pretty when it comes time to write the checks each month.
  • Also look for tankless or instant water heaters, which will reduce both your water and energy usage.
  • Homes that have smart thermostats installed will automatically adjust your heating and cooling systems to find the maximum savings.
  • Make sure the house is well insulated to trap the air conditioning in the summer and heated air in wintertime.
  • If you can snag a home with solar panels, you should enjoy a sharp reduction in your electricity bills.
  • The orientation of the house itself can be beneficial — look for south-facing windows that you can use to capture free heat from the sun in the winter.
  • Windows should be double or even triple paned to stop unwanted temperature transfers to the outdoors.

One more factor to consider is the home’s square footage. You’ll want enough space for your family, but remember that every extra room means more air to heat and cool. Instead of going for the biggest house you can afford, think about downsizing to keep your bills under control.

How to Verify

When it comes to the efficiency features of your potential new home, trust, but verify. How do you make sure that the savings are all that they’re cracked up to be? The first place to look is on the seller’s utility bills. If they are making a point of how inexpensive it is to heat and cool the home, they should be willing to prove it by giving you a glimpse at the electricity and other i bills. That way, you can get a realistic idea of how much you’ll need to budget each month.

One more important step is to hire an expert to give the home a thorough energy audit before you purchase. An experienced professional can inspect the insulation, check for drafts and assess the HVAC equipment. If you decide to buy, an energy audit can also give you ideas about where to make even more efficiency upgrades. And if the audit comes back with disappointing results and you pass on the house, you’ll have saved yourself from making an expensive mistake.