Today's homebuyers have the potential to save a lot of money on their utility bills by focusing their search on homes with such energy-saving improvements as new windows, Energy Star appliances, solid roofing, and good insulation. While location and house size may be your first must-haves, it pays to ask about energy-efficient upgrades and some newer homes may even be Energy Star certified. Here are six things to ask about when touring a house, including tips from the Department of Energy.
New windows are a win-win
Drafty windows are one way that money flies out of your wallet. In the winter, cold air gets in and in the summer, heat seeps in causing your heating and air conditioning system to work overtime. Installing new windows after you move in can cost $8,000 to $24,000, which just adds to the cost of the house. Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. That's $27 to $111 a year for a 2,000-square-foot, single story home with storm or double-pane windows. New windows also make your home quieter and more attractive and don't need painting. And they're easier to clean than old windows.
Full window Ratings and recommendations
A good roof over your head
One of the most vulnerable parts of a house is the roof, which can sustain damage from wind, snow, ice, heavy rains, and fallen trees. If the roof hasn't been properly maintained by the seller, it can fall prey to the elements leading to costly repairs for the buyer later on. Make sure you get a thorough inspection of the roofing and flashing and, if repairs are needed, try to negotiate that as part of the sale price. Ask the homeowner if the roofing materials are Energy Star-qualified. Energy Star products reflect more of the sun's rays and can help reduce the home's peak cooling demand by 10 to 15 percent.
Full roofing Ratings and recommendations
Today's appliances use a lot less energy and water than the ones you grew up with. Energy Star refrigerators use 20 percent less energy and Energy Star dishwashers use 10 percent less energy and 18 percent less water, according to the DOE. Then there's the laundry room, where an Energy Star washer can save a bundle by using 20 percent less energy and 35 percent less water than regular washers. But don't stop there, water heaters use substantially more energy than any other appliance in the house. An Energy Star-certified gas storage water heater can save a family of four $65 per year.
Full appliance Ratings and recommendations
Lower flow in the bathrooms
A lot of water flows through the bathroom and the cost of the water itself plus the expense of heating it adds up fast. Ask the seller if the bathrooms have low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads that meet federal WaterSense standards. Toilets use more water than anything else in the house, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home's indoor water consumption. Older, inefficient toilets can use as much as 6 gallons per flush while WaterSense models use 1.28 gallons or less. A newer toilet can reduce water use by 20 to 60 percent and save more than $110 per year in water costs, depending on the rate where you live.
Full toilet Ratings and recommendations
Insulation from future problems
Properly installed insulation in the walls, floors, and attic can keep your home comfortable in any region or season. So ask the seller if the insulation has been upgraded. Extra insulation in the attic guards against ice dams by preventing heat from escaping. When it does, it can melt ice and snow on the roof, which then refreezes into ice dams that cause water to back up into the home. If you're looking for a home in a cold climate, ask the homeowner if any ice dams or damage have occurred in the past.
An energy audit or score
Of course, you wouldn't buy a house without a thorough inspection. In addition to being an energy hog, it may have other problems such as termite damage, bad wiring, or other problems that could cost you a lot to correct. Ask the seller if the house has been through an energy audit recently or has a home energy score, which is similar to a vehicle's mile-per-gallon rating. Newer homes that meet Energy Star standards will have a label on the circuit breaker box.
—Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)