Home Buying with Energy Efficiency in Mind

For most New Yorkers, energy costs make up a large portion of monthly household expenses. When you’re shopping for a new home, it’s important to learn about the home’s energy performance to avoid unexpected costs after moving in. This can also ensure you are investing in a comfortable home for yourself and your family.

Benefits for Homebuyers

Keeping efficiency in mind when looking for a home offers many benefits:

  • Save money on future energy bills and maintenance costs
  • Avoid hidden costs from high energy use
  • Enjoy year-round comfort with consistent temperatures and better air quality
  • Make an informed offer with a full understanding of total homeownership costs

Follow the homebuyer’s efficiency steps below during your house hunt.

Identify homes for sale with better energy performance

Ask your real estate agent if there are any homes being promoted as energy efficient or with noted green features. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in your region may include special “green categories” for energy-efficient homes that your real estate agent can find. When touring a home, look for green features to get a sense of how efficient the home may be, such as ENERGY STAR® certified appliances and systems. View NYSERDA’s Homebuyer’s Guide[PDF] for a full list of what to look for when searching for an energy-efficient home.

Review past energy bills

If you are interested in buying a home, ask the current homeowners for a year’s worth of energy bills (electricity, gas, oil, propane). Check the average monthly and annual energy costs. Keep in mind that energy use is often related to the residents’ behavior. A household with a family size and habits different from your own will likely have different energy use patterns.

If the monthly energy costs are higher than you expected or can afford, consider making energy-saving improvements that can help you save money. Think about getting an energy audit before or after buying the home to learn what upgrades would help lower the monthly bills.

Have the heating, cooling, and hot water systems checked by a contractor or auditor

Ask the homeowners when the equipment was last serviced by a professional contractor and whether they have the service records. Most mechanical equipment should be serviced annually.

Have a contractor check the equipment or get a professional home energy audit or rating prior to making an offer. Audits and ratings will help you better understand a home’s energy performance. This analysis can include where the home is efficient or wasting energy, which systems are working properly and which are not, and which upgrades may be needed. An auditor will identify the systems’ age, life span, and efficiency rating. If a system is 15-20 years old, it may be nearing the end of its life span and need to be replaced.

Ask an auditor or contractor to also examine the plumbing fixtures, dishwasher, and clothes washer to determine how efficient they are. If they are not efficient, consider upgrading to more energy- and water-efficient options if you decide to purchase the home.

Learn more about energy-efficient heating, cooling, and water heating systems.

Ask about the home’s envelope (walls, roofing, foundation, windows, and doors)

Consider having a contractor or professional home energy auditor check for features such as air sealing, insulation, and energy-efficient windows and doors. These features work together to prevent air leaks and to ensure year-round comfort in your home. For example, an auditor will identify the insulation’s R-Value. The higher the value, the greater the insulating power.

Learn more about air sealing and insulation.

Examine the appliances

Look for ENERGY STAR certified appliances in the home. These will be the most efficient. You can also ask for the age, make, and model of all major appliances and research their performance using an appliance energy calculatorLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page.. If the appliances are old or inefficient, consider purchasing new energy-efficient appliances when moving in.

Learn more about energy-efficient appliances.

Roll energy upgrades into your mortgage

Before you close, identity whether there are any energy efficiency upgrades you want to make. Ask your lender about rolling the upgrade costs into your mortgage, or see if it’s worth considering an Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM)Link opens in new window - close new window to return to this page.. EEMs are available as a conventional, FHA, or VA loan, and they bundle the expense of energy efficiency improvements into your mortgage payments. In time, the energy savings from making upgrades could offset the extra cost. Not all lenders offer EEMs, but some may offer more flexible underwriting criteria for buyers investing in energy efficiency improvements. Make sure to ask about your options when shopping for a mortgage.

Take the first step—use NYSERDA’s Homebuyer’s Guide[PDF] for a full list of what to look for when determining the efficiency of a home.