Three Energy Efficiency Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home

April 20, 2017

Spring is the peak season for home-buying. Over the coming months, prospective buyers will spend countless hours searching for properties that fulfill their wish lists while keeping within budget. Although the challenges of house-hunting can make a prospective buyer eager to make a down payment, it's important to ask several questions about the energy efficiency of a home to avoid unexpected costs after moving in.

Questions You Should Ask
When looking at a home, many prospective homebuyers ask about the heating, cooling, and hot water systems to get a sense of the home's energy use. They may also ask about how well-insulated the home is and what types of windows it has. These are all important features to discuss with a realtor before making a purchase, since they are key factors in determining energy costs; according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), space heating, air conditioning, and hot water heating combine for around 75% of home energy use in Massachusetts.

However, there are additional, less commonly considered questions to ask when it comes to the energy efficiency of a home that can also be revealing. Since the remaining 25% of home energy use stems from appliances, electronics, and lighting, it's important to ask about these more easily overlooked features. We've put together three questions on lighting and appliances that you should ask your realtor before settling on a new home.

1. How old are the appliances, and are they energy-efficient?
Oftentimes appliances, such as washing machines, clothes dryers, and refrigerators, are included with the purchase of a new home. These can be great assets if the appliances function well and are energy-efficient. A good first step is to check whether these units are ENERGY STAR® certified. Compared to non-certified models, ENERGY STAR® certified refrigerators use 10% less energy, ENERGY STAR® certified dryers use 20% less energy, and ENERGY STAR® certified washing machines use 25% less energy. Asking about the age of appliances and whether they've recently required repairs is also helpful with determining whether appliance upgrades may be required after moving in.

2. Is there adequate, energy-efficient lighting throughout the home?
Lighting is a key factor in creating practical spaces and crafting the ambiance of a room. When viewing a home, make sure the combination of natural and artificial light leaves rooms well-lit. It's also worth asking the realtor about the types of bulbs and fixtures currently installed. Because an ENERGY STAR® certified LED is up to 90% more energy-efficient than a traditional incandescent bulb, each LED used in place of an incandescent bulb can result in more than $100 in savings over the LED's lifetime. LEDs are available in numerous wattages and styles, which means you could find them installed anywhere from bathroom vanities to recessed ceiling lights to dining room chandeliers.

3. Has the property been evaluated through a home energy assessment?
If a property has been through a Mass Save® home energy assessment, an energy specialist has completed a comprehensive evaluation of energy use throughout the home and identified opportunities to enhance the property's energy efficiency. All features will be assessed, including lighting and appliances. A Mass Save contractor will replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs at no cost, and will also assess eligibility for rebates on select appliance upgrades, such as the installation of an ENERGY STAR® certified refrigerator. Knowing a property has had a Mass Save home energy assessment and seeing the results is a great way to determine the energy efficiency of the property and identify lighting, appliances, and other features that may need to be improved.

When looking for a home, it's easy to overlook energy efficiency questions amidst the focus on other features, such as the property's size, curb appeal, neighborhood, and listing price. However, it's important to keep these questions in mind to avoid facing higher-than-expected energy costs after your purchase. Plus, if you sell this new home, the property will be worth more if it's energy-efficient. Want to learn more about how energy efficiency affects home value? Check out our interview with two local realtors who shared their insights on the topic.

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