There are so many things to consider when buying a home and it can quickly become overwhelming. You might prioritize white cabinets and a large yard. Or maybe you’re searching for the perfect master bedroom and ensuite. But how high is energy efficiency on your list? Luckily, Mysa has a home buying guide to help.
The energy efficiency of a home isn’t always included in a listing. But, nearly 10% of home buyers under 34 years old would happily pay more for a proven energy-efficient home. And energy-efficient homes come with many benefits. They're easier to keep at a comfortable temperature, they’re less expensive to operate, and they’re more environmentally friendly.
If you’re currently searching for your dream home, we encourage you to bookmark and refer back to this home buying guide. Within, you will find the best tips and tricks to ensure that you purchase an energy-efficient home.
Home Buyers Checklist — Energy-Efficient Home Buying Guide 101
Regardless of where or when you buy your home, there are several key aspects to consider. If energy efficiency is important to you, it’s best to be upfront with your real estate agent. And ask about features like insulation and smart thermostats to show that you mean business.
When you find a home you like, consider each of the questions below to assess its level of energy efficiency. This home buying guide will help you make the best choice for you, your family, the environment, and your budget.
How Old is the Home?
Older homes are full of unique design features and history. But, they may not be the most up-to-date in terms of modern energy efficiency. It’s even possible that some newer homes were built just before new regulations were put in place.
If you are drawn to an older home because of its character, no worries. While it may not currently be energy efficient, it can be made so with a few home upgrades. New appliances, insulation, window sealing, and smart thermostats would all help increase a home’s energy efficiency. Just make sure to consider these added costs when making an offer!
What Type & Style is the Home?
The next suggestion in our home buying guide is to consider the style of each home. Some building styles and materials insulate a home better than others. High, vaulted ceilings, for example, are a striking feature. But they may make it more expensive to heat your home in the winter. Similarly, log cabins, container homes, and mobile homes may have their own inefficiencies if not properly insulated and sealed.
If regularly keeping energy costs low is a priority, look for homes that use space efficiently and minimize heat loss. If you absolutely must have those high ceilings or oversized windows, there are some alternatives that can help you maintain energy efficiency. For example, smart thermostats can help you regulate indoor temperatures and avoid wasting heat on unused spaces.
When Were the Most Recent Upgrades to the Home?
An important question in our home buying guide pertains to home upgrades. Always ask about what home improvements have been made and when. Sellers often make renovations to areas like bathrooms and kitchens before putting their homes on the market. But, some may focus on cosmetic features and leave energy-efficient upgrades to the buyer. If you’ll have to replace the home insulation or appliances right away, figure that added cost into your offer.
What Type of Heating and/or Cooling System is Installed?
Another hot tip in our home buying guide is to consider what type of heating and cooling system is installed. Does the heater run on gas or electricity? What about the water heater? If there’s an air conditioner, does it involve ducts or window units?
About 60-70% of a household’s energy bill is dedicated to climate control. So, it’s important to thoroughly investigate the efficiency of a home’s heating and cooling system. Be on the lookout for wall-mounted thermostats, specifically in bedrooms and common areas. A house with smart thermostats could save you hundreds annually on your energy bills. Smart thermostats are also a good sign that the sellers have more energy-efficient features throughout the home.
Does the Home Have an Energy Score, Rating, or Certification?
The government and independent organizations both provide systems to validate how energy-efficient a home is. The US Department of Energy (DOE) assigns a rating from 1-10 for the overall energy efficiency of a residential home. Their scoring includes the roof, insulation, walls, windows, foundation, and climate control system. If energy efficiency is high on your list of must-haves, look for a house with a score of 8-10.
Ready for another home buying guide tip? As you look at listings online, look for a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score. This nationally recognized index uses the data from a home inspection to calculate how well a home’s energy systems perform. You can also use this number to predict how much your utility bills will be by using the HERS Index.
Also, Energy Star Certified homes are becoming more common as homeowners make energy-efficient home upgrades. And it’s no wonder! To qualify as an Energy Star Certified home, it must be at least 15% more efficient than similar homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code.
What about Insulation?
When viewing a home, insulation isn’t as easy to see as, for example, a home’s heating system. It’s easy to spot baseboard heaters and a wall-mounted thermostat. But, insulation is inside the walls! Luckily, an inspector can do a thorough investigation for you.
Here’s another home buying guide tip. Before signing on the dotted line, hire an experienced inspector to look into the age of the home’s insulation, and test its effectiveness. Good insulation will keep your home more comfortable regardless of the weather outside. And this will ultimately reduce your regular heating and cooling costs.
Are the Doors and Windows Sealed Securely?
Windows and doors are rarely upgraded before selling a home. An in-depth inspection should reveal any broken seals to help pinpoint immediate repairs. Proper sealing helps improve a home’s insulation and reduces pollen, noise, drafts, and moisture. This will also prevent heat leaking, so your heating system doesn’t have to work overtime unnecessarily.
Another thing to consider is whether the windows are double-paned (or even triple-paned) and if the frames are sufficient. In especially cold climates, highly energy-efficient homes may also have protective coatings applied to windows to further insulate them.
Can You Review a Record of Last Year’s Energy Bills?
The next tip in our energy-efficient home buying guide is related to energy bills. A great way to determine if a home is energy-efficient is to review the utility bills for the past 12 months. It’s possible that the current homeowners don’t have the same heating preferences as you. However, this will at least give you an idea of how much your bills will be each month. If costs seem unusually high, definitely look into this further; an energy-efficient home should have low monthly energy bills. In fact, homes with an Energy Star Certification often have annual energy savings of $200-$400 compared to standard homes.
What Did the Inspection Reveal?
Home buying guide pro tip — always opt to have an inspection before buying a home. A professional will go through every inch of the house to help you make an informed decision.
If possible, look for an inspector certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) or a DOE Home Energy Score Assessor. These inspectors will expertly look over the home’s heating and cooling systems to determine how energy-efficient they are. They’d also be able to recommend improvements, like cleaning filters or adding smart thermostats.
How to Increase Your New Home’s Energy Efficiency
Of course, few homes score a perfect 10 when it comes to energy efficiency. So, chances are, yours will require a few improvements. (Although, after following this home buying guide, the number of improvements needed should be minimal).
Where you decide to start will all depend on what your inspection revealed. You may choose to update the home’s heating system, install smart thermostats, or upgrade the insulation. Or maybe you’ll opt for new Energy Star appliances.
Have an Energy Audit
Our next home buying guide tip is to have an energy audit before moving into your new home. Many municipalities and energy companies offer rebates and incentives for energy audits since they’re beneficial for energy conservation. An energy audit will reveal any outstanding issues and provide actionable solutions to improve a home’s energy efficiency.
Seal the Thermal Envelope
Like a paper envelope, your home has corners and openings that can allow air to pass through if not properly sealed. Builders recommend upgrading old insulation, resealing windows, and checking ducts and vents to prevent air leaks. This will, of course, increase a home’s energy efficiency.
Install Smart Thermostats
We wouldn’t have a complete energy-efficient home buying guide without mentioning smart thermostats. Smart thermostats can decrease your monthly energy bill by as much as 26%, while also keeping you cozy. These devices are designed to replace your existing thermostats and give you greater control over daily heating and cooling.
By setting a personalized schedule, smart thermostats automate your home’s heating to your preferred temperature settings. They can also be controlled remotely via a smartphone app or connected to a voice assistant. So, if your schedule changes while on the go, simply adjust the temperature from your smartphone.
Smart thermostats are an easy and inexpensive modern upgrade to whatever house you choose to call home. Rebates and incentives are even available through utility companies to further offset the initial cost. Smart thermostats are the ultimate energy-efficient home buying guide recommendation!
To find the right smart thermostat for your home, choose one that’s compatible with your heating system and smart home assistant. The most important question when assessing compatibility with your heating system is whether you have low or high voltage heating. If your home has low voltage heating (like a furnace), consider Google Nest or Ecobee. But if you have high (or line) voltage heating like electric baseboard or in-floor heating, Mysa is the best option for you.
Best Wishes in Finding Your New Energy-Efficient Home!
Buying any home is a big deal. But, committing to an energy-efficient home and future is truly commendable. Hats off to you!
Though the process may seem daunting, we hope this energy-efficient home buying guide is useful along the way. Whether you’re about to view your first home, make an offer, or move into your newly purchased home, this guide should ensure your home is energy-efficient.
We’d love to hear about your home buying process and what energy-efficient features you’re looking for. Tell us in the comments below!