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Home Buying? How to Improve Home Energy Score

When looking to purchase a new home, one important aspect is the home energy score. But what does it mean? And how much should you budget for improvements? 

Row of electrical meters

When entering the home buying arena, one of the most common questions to ask involves the home’s average energy usage cost. Although this can be helpful, there are a lot of factors that can change pretty drastically after you become the homeowner and may leave you with a larger-than-expected energy bill.  

Enter the Home Energy Score™.  

What is the Home Energy Score™?  

The U.S. Department of Energy compares the Home Energy Score™ to the miles-per-gallon rating provided for cars. Like the miles-per-gallon rating, this metric allows buyers, renters, or homeowners the opportunity to compare credible information regarding a home’s energy use. It provides standard assessment requirements and allows buyers to easily compare one home in the area to another since buildings are scored on a level of one to ten.  

The report also offers helpful tips for cost improvements along with the annual cost savings estimates those changes would gain.  

At present, very few cities require this report for home sales, but this number is increasing as the number of voluntary assessments increases across the country. Portland, Oregon, began requiring the report to be included in real estate listings in January 2018. Since then, more than 23,000 scores have been generated. Other cities within Oregon are beginning to join Portland as well. In Berkley, California, the Home Energy Score™ is included as part of a home sale.  

Today it seems unimaginable to purchase a vehicle without knowing the mpg rating, the U.S. Department of Energy hopes the Home Energy Score™ will become the same very soon.  

How to Request a Professional Home Energy Assessment  

While the availability of certified home energy assessment companies varies per state, the easiest way is to visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website for an interactive look at how to schedule an inspection. Remember scores are available for owners, potential buyers, and renters, but you will need coordination with the current occupant to be completed.  

DIY vs. Contractor Home Energy Score™ Improvements  

As a potential homeowner knowing what elements can be do-it-yourself improvements and what jobs need to be contracted out is important. We’ll detail five-weekend jobs you can do yourself and five jobs that are best left to the professional.  

5 DIY Energy Saving Repairs  

DIY improvements can make a much larger dent in your energy loss than one may imagine. With online tools to help, anyone can start small and make big impacts.  

  • Locate and Seal Air Leaks – Although savings differ, experts say sealing leaks alone can save you up to 25% on your energy bills. First, make a list of all the places in the home you can feel drafts and tackle those first. Next, look for less noticeable leaks. Check areas where two building materials meet and along baseboards, plumbing fixtures, and electrical outlets. These are common locations for air leaks. Caulk and other sealants only last so long, so replacing them with new formulas can make a big difference. 
  • Change to Energy Efficient Lighting – The Department of Energy estimates home lighting accounts for about 10% of your energy bills. Replacing traditional incandescent lights with more energy-efficient bulbs is a low-cost and low-effort way to make a change. In addition to saving on energy, LED bulbs last up to 10 times longer, so you’ll need to replace them less frequently.
  • Upgrade Appliances – When appliances need to be replaced, opt for ENERGY STAR rated choices. A new washer, for example, will not only save you money on energy bills but also use less water and dry clothes better, reducing the time needed in the dryer.  Even if you don’t need to upgrade your appliances just yet, there are steps you can take to help save energy. For example, your refrigerator should have at least an inch around all sides for improved airflow. Also, cleaning the cooling coil of dust and debris at least once a year will help energy usage.  
  • Add Weatherstripping to Windows and Doors – If you’re not in the market right now for new windows, that’s totally understandable. There are ways to make sure your windows aren’t the main source of air loss. Try adding weatherstripping. Be sure to use a type that will withstand temperature changes and normal wear and tear and clean the area before you apply it to make sure the adhesion is strong. 
  • Lowering Hot Water Temperature – Do you know the temperature your hot water heater is set at? Chances are, no. Most manufacturers set water heaters to 140 degrees. Consider turning down the temperature to 130 degrees or even 120 degrees. Although the savings aren’t huge, the Department of Energy estimates you could save anywhere from 5 to 22 percent per year on your energy bills. However, there are some factors to consider, like if your dishwasher doesn’t have a built-in booster heater, you may want to keep the temperature high. Still, this change costs nothing, takes very little time to accomplish, and could save you substantial money in the long run.

5 Contractor Energy Saving Repairs  

  • New Windows – Although new windows can be a big investment upfront, you could save up to 50 percent on your energy bills if you swap out your old, drafty windows. The best type of window for energy savings are those with two panes and argon gas between. A low-emissivity coating on the glass is also available. Still, be ready to pay around $600 per window, a cost that should pay for itself in the long run and create a more comfortable home.
  • Tankless Water Heater – Considering a tankless hot water heater allows you to cut standby energy losses since water is not stored rather provided only as needed. When the hot water is turned on, cold water flows through a heating element and becomes hot. Although you will never need to wait for a hot water tank to fill up again, the tankless water heater does limit the flow rate of the water at one time. 
  • HVAC Updates – Similar to a new washer and dryer, when your HVAC unit needs to be replaced, consider a system with a high ENERGY STAR rating that matches the size of your home well. Some units now allow you to have separate controls per room to be as efficient and comfortable as possible. Expect to spend roughly $5,000 for a new unit. Be sure to schedule annual maintenance to ensure it runs at peak performance.
  • Insulation Improvements – Poor insulation, especially in your attic and below-grade areas, is a big reason for high energy bills. Upgrading your home’s insulation in the attic and crawl space or basement can save you up to 50 percent on your energy bills. Although adding insulation on your own is possible, it’s best to leave this project to the professionals so they can ensure you’re getting the most benefit for your investment as well as protecting the proper airflow in the areas.
  • Check Air Ducts – To help minimize air loss in your air ducts, having a professional inspection is the route to take rather than DIY. Your home’s air ducts are a system of tubes in the wall, floor, and ceiling that carry air from the furnace and AC unit to the rooms in your house. These ducts are poorly sealed and likely a reason for your high energy bills. A professional can help seal and insulate your ductwork to offer cost-effective solutions.

Bottom Line: Know A Home’s Energy Score™ and How to Improve It  

Now that you understand the importance of being able to compare homes based on their energy scores and how to save money and energy by making big improvements as well as daily habit changes, it’s also important to know some areas offer tax credits for these repairs. It’s best to work with your city and state to see what qualifies. The federal government also allows you to claim 10% of the cost of qualified energy efficiency improvements up to $500.  

If you’re looking to upgrade your home’s below-grade insulation, the local experts at Groundworks can help. Using cutting-edge products, we’ll insulate and seal your basement and crawl space, encapsulating it into the envelope of the home and saving homeowners up to 25 percent on their energy bills. Contact us today to schedule your inspection. 

So, a home with a low energy score isn’t grounds for walking away from your dream home. Instead, be systematic about your home improvements and make smart choices about your energy usage.