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What to Look for When Considering a New Home

Home buyers, renters, and landlords have a number of tools at their fingertips to better predict the energy efficiency – and associated costs – of a house or apartment before they sign on the dotted line.
three people signing a housing agreement

Aspiring homeowners and renters alike have a lot to consider when looking for a new home. Beyond the basics – the number of bedrooms, square footage, proximity to work and school – there are a number of items that can easily be overlooked, some of which can lead to higher utility bills than originally anticipated. Here are some things for homebuyers and potential renters to look for when inspecting a property, and some hints for landlords to make their rental units more appealing.

For Renters

Renters might feel as though they’re at the mercy of the landlord when it comes to energy costs, but that’s far from the truth. Asking the right questions can make a big difference and may even equip potential renters with bargaining tools.

  • What’s included in the rent? Some properties include some or all of the recurring utility expenses in the monthly rent payment, which may justify paying a higher rent. You’ll have the added benefit of a predictable monthly bill without having to anticipate seasonal fluctuations.
  • If you are paying for your own utilities, look for ways to control costs, such as programmable thermostats, LED lighting fixtures, and low-flow showerheads. Your landlord may even be willing to cover the cost.
  • Ask to see historical electric and gas or oil consumption data. While not exact, examining what the previous tenant paid is a great way to estimate potential utility expenses.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® symbol on appliances, especially refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes washers and dryers. Efficient appliances will save both energy and money.
  • Choose the most efficient unit available. Exposure to the outside can significantly impact the cost to heat an apartment. For example, the second-floor unit of a three-story building can take advantage of the heat that rises from the first-floor unit. Similarly, a middle unit will retain heat better than an end unit. Remember that vaulted ceilings increase the space that must be heated and cooled.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that heating and cooling account for 56 percent of residential energy usage.

For Landlords

An attractive and well-equipped rental property can provide significant income, but there are other ways to get top dollar for the houses or apartments you rent – many of which won’t break the bank. If you typically include utilities in the monthly rent, the savings from related improvements will directly impact your bottom line.

  • When making aesthetic improvements, consider whether there are additional upgrades you can make that would otherwise be costly or difficult. For example, renovations that include replacing sheetrock are the perfect opportunity to upgrade the insulation in the walls.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® label when it comes time to replace aging appliances. Similarly, low-flow showerheads and toilets go a long way toward conserving water.
  • Installing LED lighting fixtures and light bulbs won’t just save energy – it will also reduce maintenance requests, as LED bulbs last up to 25 times longer than their incandescent counterparts.
  • Update or replace inefficient windows. Doors and windows are the main culprits when it comes to heat loss in the winter (and inefficient cooling in the summer). At minimum, conduct a yearly inspection to reseal cracks or insulate against drafts.
  • Regular maintenance of the HVAC system will keep it operating at peak efficiency and will reduce the likelihood of late-night service calls.

For Buyers

Buyers have a lot to consider when looking for the perfect house. When it comes time to make what’s likely be your single largest lifetime investment, your monthly mortgage bill is just the tip of the iceberg. Additional monthly expenses can really add up, so it’s important to get the big picture to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

  • Invest in a professional home inspection. For $300 to $500, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the house is not only structurally sound but that the systems are working as they should. Worst-case scenario? You’ll know what needs to be done before you move in.
  • Decide how much space you really need. It may be tempting to purchase the largest house you can afford, but the costs to maintain it are directly proportional to its size. Three bathrooms have three toilets, three showers, and a minimum of three sinks, and unless the HVAC system is zoned, you’ll be paying to heat and cool rooms you don’t even use.
  • Ask to see maintenance records of the HVAC system. It’s also not a bad idea to schedule routine maintenance before you move in, to ensure that everything is in tip-top shape when you need it.
  • Carefully review the seller’s disclosure statement, which details any problems with the house that the seller is aware of that may not be obvious to a potential buyer. This might include damage incurred by fire or flood that has been repaired.
  • Look for “deferred maintenance” items. This term applies to repairs that have been delayed due to budgetary, time, or resource constraints. Older homes are likely to have more deferred maintenance items. These are typically non-critical repairs that can rack up serious expenditures if not attended to (think: leaky kitchen faucet).


  • Regardless of whether you’re purchasing a home or signing a lease, there are steps you can take to keep additional monthly expenses to a minimum.
  • A home inspection is the single most important way to ensure that there aren’t unpleasant surprises in the future.
  • Renters and homeowners alike can make some simple changes to increase the energy efficiency of their homes and save money at the same time.