The Housing Scene

Guide for Energy Efficiency Buyers

If you're serious about purchasing an energy-efficient house -- and surveys indicate that more and more people are -- you'll want to download a copy of the Checklist for Home Energy Efficient Attributes.

Produced by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), a regional nonprofit started a decade ago to accelerate energy efficiency in the building sector, the checklist is part of a suite of resources the group is building to assist buyers, renters, appraisers and realty agents in working with energy efficiency.

It is meant to allow real estate professionals to make "a fairly quick assessment" of a home's efficiency. But there's absolutely no reason a would-be homebuyer can't use it to do the same.

The list is organized into seven categories: lighting, appliances, HVAC, water usage, building envelope, fenestration and third-party evaluation. For those who want efficiency but have no clue about the terminology, it also has a glossary of energy efficiency terms.

You can find the checklist at NEEP's website: Search for it, and then click on the big green dot.

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of what homebuyers should look for:

-- LIGHTING. Compact fluorescent bulbs use 25 percent of the electricity used by a standard incandescent bulb of the equivalent brightness. And light-emitting diodes use only 10 percent.

Of course, you can change the bulbs once you move in. But you can't change whether the home you like has natural lighting.

Here you want large, south-facing windows with large overhangs, which can keep the sun's rays out in the summer and allow them in during the winter when the sun is lower in the sky. Deciduous trees, which have a full complement of leaves in the summer but shed them in the winter, work the same way.

-- APPLIANCES. Energy Star-certified appliances are designed to save energy without sacrificing performance. A certified refrigerator is 9 to 10 percent more efficient than federal standards, dishwashers 10 percent more efficient, dryers use 20 percent less energy, and washing machines use 20 percent less energy and 35 percent less water.

These, too, can be changed out once you move in, but that is a much more expensive proposition.

-- HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING. The yellow label attached to the HVAC system -- the "V" stands for ventilation -- will tell you how efficient the system is and give you an idea of the cost to operate it on an annual basis.

Also look for a programmable thermostat and sealed and insulated ductwork. Operated properly, a programmable thermostat can save about 10 percent on your heating and cooling bills. But unsealed or uninsulated ducts can lead to an energy loss of up to 20 percent.

-- WATER. If there is a hot-water system that heats water on demand rather than a whole tank 24 hours a day, it should be certified. Again, look for the yellow label.

Other things to look for include insulation on hot water pipes and water tanks, and low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets.

-- ENVELOPE. Check for insulation and sealing around windows, doors and any other places that enter or exit the house, such as pipes and wires. The proper sealing and insulation can cut your total energy costs by a whopping 30 percent -- and increase your comfort.

-- FENESTRATION. Known to regular folk as windows, doors and skylights. You want to look for high-performance windows, hopefully those with a coating that reflects radiant heat. Doors should be weather-stripped properly.

-- EVALUATIONS. Many utilities and private entities offer free or inexpensive energy audits that will tell you where the house falls short and make recommendations for improvements. Some utilities also offer rebates for energy-efficient appliances and other items.

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