Home buying with efficiency in mind

2 min read

For most Vermonters, energy costs make up a substantial portion of household expenses. When shopping for a new home, check for signs of above-normal energy use to avoid hidden costs. Use our home buyer’s checklist to help.

Examine past electric bills

Ask for a year’s worth of electricity bills, and look for monthly usage in kilowatt hours (kWh). The average electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer is 911 kWh per month. If the home uses a lot more, find out why.

Ask for heating bills & check the system

Look at the heating system’s age, life span, and efficiency. Most fossil fuel furnaces and boilers have an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating. An AFUE below 75% (common in older systems) means it will cost more to operate. AFUE ratings of 87% or higher are found in new ENERGY STAR certified oil-fired boilers. AFUE ratings of 90% or higher are attained by ENERGY STAR gas-fired boilers.

Examine the appliances

Look at the make and model of all appliances, research their performance online, and check whether they’re ENERGY STAR® certified. If not, new energy-efficient appliances may be a cost-effective investment. Use this appliance energy calculator to estimate annual energy use and operating cost.

Check the hot water system

Review its efficiency rating and fuel type. Water heating accounts for a high percentage of energy consumption in Vermont households, typically costing about $400 per year. Check the water heater’s energy factor. This calculates total efficiency, including tank insulation and standby heat loss. The higher the energy factor, the better.

Check the fireplace

A fireplace is often an attractive feature to homebuyers but it requires upfront inspection. If it’s fully functioning, make sure it also has a functioning damper and an efficient insert or stove. If it isn’t functioning, ask if all openings are properly sealed. Unused fireplaces, particularly in older homes, can be a common source of air leaks and heat loss.

Ask for an energy code certificate

A new home is not automatically more efficient than an older home. If you’re buying a brand-new home in Vermont, ask to see its energy code certificate. This proves the home is in compliance with state efficiency standards.

Consider size

The amount of heated square footage affects comfort, property taxes and energy use. More square footage requires more energy to heat and cool. Carefully consider the energy costs of extra bedrooms, bathrooms, bonus rooms, and finished basements. The core idea of efficiency is to use only the space you need.

Roll energy upgrades into your mortgage

You can ask for a professional energy assessment prior to purchase. And before you close, identify upgrades you’ll want to do. Then roll their costs into your mortgage—the energy savings will help pay for the incremental increase in your monthly payment (and in some cases, the savings can cover it entirely).