Rely on a pro to let you know what’s going to cost you dough
by Miranda Boutelle, Contributing Columnist
Q: I’m planning to buy a new home this year, and I want to know how efficient it is. What questions should I ask my home inspector?
A: It can be difficult for a buyer to know how efficient a home is when viewing the listing online or taking a tour. Your home inspector can help you identify potential energy costs and energy-efficiency upgrades.
There’s nothing wrong with buying an inefficient home, but you will want to know what you’re getting into and that you can afford the energy costs once you get the keys. Here are five questions to ask your home inspector:
1. What is the condition of the electrical panel and wiring?
A panel upgrade or rewiring can be a costly endeavor. An older panel and wiring aren’t necessarily inefficient, but they can delay or make some energy-efficiency projects more expensive. In several homes I have worked on, older wiring had to be replaced before insulation could be added.
Make sure the panel can accommodate any new appliances you might want to add, such as air conditioning or an electric vehicle charger.
2. How old is the HVAC system and how efficient is it?
The typical lifespan of an HVAC system is 15 to 25 years. As the largest energy user and often the most expensive equipment in the home, you will want to know the energy, maintenance and replacement costs.
3. How old is the water heater?
The lifespan of a storage water heater is about 10 years. The cost to replace a water heater ranges from $400 to $3,600, depending on the unit type and installation costs. If an older water heater is in a finished space or on a second floor, replace it before it fails and potentially causes water damage.
4. How is the insulation in the attic, walls and floor?
Insulation is one of the easiest and most beneficial energy-efficiency upgrades you can make. It can make a home feel more comfortable, waste less energy and reduce outdoor noise.
To cut down on drafts and make insulation more effective, air seal before insulating. Seal cracks, gaps or holes in the walls, floors, ceiling and framing between heated and unheated spaces.
If your new home needs insulation and air sealing, make this your efficiency priority. The sooner you do it, the more energy you will save over time. You can find information about insulation and air sealing at energy.gov.
5. Will any extras in this home increase my utility bills?
Any motors in the home or on the property should be assessed, including pumps for wells and septic systems. You will want to be able to afford the cost of operating amenities, such as pools, hot tubs and saunas.
When buying a home that checks all your boxes, ask your home inspector the right efficiency questions. Understanding the condition of appliances, features and building materials can save you from hidden surprises in your home and on your first few utility bills.
Miranda Boutelle writes on energy-efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.