House Hunting for Energy Efficiency

By Jonathan Susser | May 22, 2020

Q: I am in the process of house hunting, and I want to make sure I end up with a home that is energy efficient. What should I look for?

A: So you’re ready to take the plunge into homeownership. You’ve saved for a down payment and found a great interest rate. You’ve taken virtual tours and now know exactly what you want in your perfect home. Spacious kitchen? Absolutely. Nice yard? Yes, please! Updated appliances? Of course. But there are other considerations that could benefit your comfort, health and monthly budget.

Perhaps another factor in your home search should be energy efficiency. What does an energy efficient home look like? Often, it looks nearly identical to a less efficient home, but there are some strong indicators that a home may have been built or renovated with energy efficiency in mind.

High-efficiency heating and cooling equipment

At your request, a home inspector can provide the age and efficiency rating of any commonly available heating or cooling system. As the largest energy consumer in a home, this equipment is a big contributor to your monthly electric or gas bill. A system that is 12 years or older should be considered a candidate for replacement in the next few years.

Extra insulation

Think of this as the down jacket of your home in the winter and Styrofoam cooler in the summer. A well‑installed, consistent layer of insulation greatly contributes to the comfort and energy efficiency of your home year-round. Older homes could typically use an insulation upgrade, especially in the attic, unless retrofit work has been done. Ask your home inspector about current insulation levels, measured in R-values, to see if your prospective home is properly insulated.

Low-flow water fixtures

Water is an increasingly valuable commodity. Low-flow water fixtures help minimize consumption, often without any noticeable difference in pressure. They inject air into the stream, creating tiny bubbles at the equivalent pressure of a fixture that uses more water. Keep an eye out for WaterSense products, which can reduce consumption by 30 percent. More information can be found at lookforwatersense.epa.gov.

ENERGY STAR® appliances

The ENERGY STAR label is now relatively common when shopping for dishwashers, washers, dryers and the like. It indicates that an appliance meets benchmarks for energy efficiency and quality. Most major hardware stores stock a variety of ENERGY STAR appliances, which are a great option if your dream home needs an upgrade. All ENERGY STAR-registered products can be found at energystar.gov.

Above-code certifications

There are many possibilities here: ENERGY STAR, LEED, Zero Energy Ready and others. Ask the current homeowner, agent or builder if the home has any above-code certifications. Each provides different benefits, but they’re generally all more energy efficient than a home built to code-minimum standards. These certifications offer many advantages and may even get you a lower interest rate on your mortgage.

HERS rating

A Home Energy Rating System (HERS) inspection is performed by a certified energy rater on behalf of the builder. The energy rater is a third party that verifies that the home is being built efficiently and to NC Code and many above-code programs. North Carolina is one of the leading states in completed HERS ratings each year. If you are curious about whether your prospective home has received a HERS rating, you can search a free database at hersindex.com.

This article was written by Tommy Blair, one of our building science specialists, and originally published in Carolina Country Magazine.