Most of us will never buy anything bigger than a house, and we typically find ourselves juggling several different issues when shopping for one. In today's world we're forced to place an ever-increasing emphasis on energy efficiency. Energy consumption levels are directly related to personal comfort, affordability, and to the resale value of the home.
In addition to calculating principal, interest and taxes - and the cost of home improvements to determine whether or not we could afford the house we want, banks and other lenders also take into account the ongoing energy costs involved in running a home these days.
BEAUTY MAY ONLY BE SKIN DEEP. Two houses that look the same can easily have a 50% or greater difference in heating and cooling costs. But even a very old home might be quite energy efficient, if energy efficiency was a factor in prior renovations. One of the most elusive considerations and sometimes most dramatic of all, is comparative lifestyles. Two working people with no children will use considerably less energy than a family of four - especially with small children, and who have increased water heating and cooking demands, and may need to fully heat the house 24 hours a day.
COMPARING UTILITY BILLS can indicate which houses have higher or lower energy costs; but different heating systems, family size and lifestyles, and energy features of a house will have a large effect on these readings. Energy bills should only be used as a starting point for comparisons, and remember - nearly every house can be improved upon.
CONDUCT AN ENERGY AUDIT as you walk through each prospective house. In addition to utility bills, types of systems and lifestyles, note the age and condition of the heating & cooling systems, air barriers, insulation, doors, windows, weather-stripping, caulking, etc. Note the location. Is the house sheltered on the windward side? Are there any shade trees?
Learn as much as you can about energy efficiency, so that you can verify if the vendor has been "energy-wise", and that your house is not an energy hog.
Gil Strachan is a professional home inspector, representing Electrospec Home Inspection Services in east-central Ontario since 1994.