Energy Adviser: Consider energy bills when buying a home

When searching for their next home, budget-minded house hunters know to look beyond the mortgage to understand the true cost of owning their home; but too often, a critical piece of information goes overlooked — the home’s energy consumption.

“When they’re thinking about monthly expenses and personal budgets, most homebuyers know to include things like taxes and homeowner association fees, but many don’t remember to include utility expenses,” said Energy Services Supervisor DuWayne Dunham. “Then, when winter comes around, they might be unpleasantly surprised by a higher than expected utility bill.”

The age and condition of a home can have a significant impact on a household’s monthly energy expense. That’s why buyers should pay special attention to certain characteristics of the house, and consider a call to Clark Public Utilities.

“Buyers looking at homes built in 1990 or after should feel reasonably secure that the insulation levels, windows, and exterior envelope tightness are satisfactory,” Dunham said. “Homes older than that weren’t built to the same energy codes and may not have been remodeled to be efficient.”

Several factors have significant influence in a home’s efficiency, most notably the insulation, windows, heating system, water heater and exterior doors.

In the case of heating, which has the greatest influence on the utility bill, a home with poor insulation and metal-framed windows can be drafty and have frequent temperature swings during particularly cold or hot days. Consequentially, the homeowner will have higher costs during those periods because the heating or cooling system will have to run frequently to maintain the desired temperature.

So, when touring a home, take notes on the home’s fuel source (gas or electric), major appliances and construction characteristics.

Heat pumps or ductless heat pumps are much more efficient than electric furnaces or resistance heaters, like baseboard or wall heaters. Plus, they offer air conditioning when the temperature climbs.

A high-efficiency gas furnace will be more cost effective to operate than an electric furnace.

Heat pump water heaters have annual operating expenses that are significantly lower than a standard electric water heater. A tankless gas water heater will perform differently than a tank version.

The amount of insulation, especially in the crawlspace and the attic, has great influence over a home’s performance.

Windows are always a drag on efficiency. Take note of how many, how large and how well-constructed they are in the home. Metal-frame windows allow more heated or cooled air to escape than vinyl or wood frames. Single-pane windows are half as insulating as double-pane. Triple-pane windows are five times more insulating than single-pane. Also, the more panes, the quieter the window.

How the home is oriented matters. Lots of windows on the south and west sides will create heat issues in the summer.

Finally, check out the appliances. In general, older appliances are less efficient than newer ones. Energy Star rated appliances save the most energy.

Even after taking all those into account, it can be hard to understand how they come together to affect a home’s utility bills. Plus, there’s a good chance home shoppers will find a mix of technologies. For example: what if a house has subpar insulation, but a ductless heat pump?

To get a grasp on the dollars and cents, call Clark Public Utilities. Customer service representatives can tell potential homebuyers a property’s lowest and highest electricity bills of the previous 12 months.

They can also point customers to utility resources to learn more about saving energy as well as rebates and incentives that can make certain energy-efficiency projects more affordable.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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