It’s been cold out lately (you’ve probably noticed :D)! In honor of the weather, thought I’d write about heating costs and buying a home. Overall we’ve been having some pretty mild winters in recent years, but when it gets down below zero like it’s been recently, it emphasizes the importance of keeping warm without spending an arm and a leg!
Take the following with a grain of salt It’s my two cents on the topic based off of years dealing with homes and inspections in the Alaska real estate market, but of course consult an expert before making important decisions…
Older vs. Newer Home
Typically older homes are less energy efficient than newer homes built to modern standards. Of course, how older homes were constructed varies considerably (I remember a seller showing me a hole in the sheetrock of an old 2×4-built Nunaka Valley home … nothing but a tin foil like paper between the studs!).
On the flipside, newer homes tend to be more expensive, and you can buy a lot less home for the money, so the additional purchase price may or may not be worth it for any savings in utility costs. Keep in mind that some older homes have been through an energy audit, had insulation added, etc. and really can be pretty efficient.
Construction (especially in older homes)
2×6”+ construction (assuming adequate insulation was installed) is going to be more energy efficient than thinner 2×4” exterior walls. How does one tell? A quick measurement (many can eyeball it) of the thickness of window/door openings is all that is needed.
Double pane windows (two panels of glass) vs. single pane windows are typically more energy efficient. Triple pane windows provide a slight additional edge, with the added benefit of more comfort closer to the glass and little to no frost/water build up on the inside of the glass. It’s worth looking into, if you’re replacing windows anyway. I went with triple pane on our remodeled house, and it was a surprisingly small fraction of the overall window price to upgrade.
Roof/attic. Most roofs should have ventilation above the insulation (a “cold roof”). If this does not appear to be the case it’s a good idea to check with a professional. The amount of insulation in the attic/trusses is a big determiner of energy efficiency. Oftentimes additional insulation can be installed (not always).
Heating Types & Fuel Source
I won’t say too much here because “____ is the best heat source” tends to be fighting words 😀 Forced air, baseboard, and in-floor heat are the most common options. Regardless, an energy efficient unit set up correctly, and serviced and maintained regularly, is important. Older units can work just fine, but keep in mind that if they are at the end of their lifespan, they can be a huge hit to the pocket book all of a sudden if they fail or need to be replaced.
The most common fuel sources are natural gas (in the more built up areas), sometimes heating fuel, and occasionally propane. Heating fuel and propane are more expensive and less automated, so typically not used when natural gas is available. Of course there is wood as well. I supplement my heat with a newer, efficient Blaze King woodstove, and LOVE it. Downsides are the “hassle” of dealing with wood, keeping a fire going and stocking it (I enjoy it personally). Keep in mind: Open wood fireplaces are for ambiance. They actually suck more heat up the chimney than they add to the house. Not-so-efficient wood stoves can be similar, so look for one that can burn low and slow without heat loss.
Both furnaces/boilers and wood stoves can be professionally inspected and serviced as part of the home buying process.
Energy Efficiency and Inspections
Energy efficiency isn’t usually part of the home inspection process per se. What is typically looked at is the average utility costs. Blower door/thermal imaging tests are available but not typical prior to a sale. They are good tests to have done, because oftentimes they can point to specific areas of heat loss and suggest improvements (and those improvements aren’t always super expensive to make).
Newer, more energy efficient homes tend to cost more per square foot. It may or may not be worth buying a home that costs more to heat, but is in the desired price range with a lesser a payment. In other cases, if you actually factor in energy savings and the potential for having to replace an older heater, it might be worth making a slight bump up in house payment to get a more efficient home with a newer heating system. You’ll have to crunch the numbers for yourself and decide! The main thing is to be informed and head into the decision with your eyes wide open.
Have a happy (albeit cold) Monday!