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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Consider efficiency before you buy a home

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: June 10, 2023, 5:55am

A home is the largest purchase any of us make, so before signing on the dotted line, it’s critical to know as much as you can about the property — including its energy consumption.

Even if you pay your house off in full, you’ll still have a monthly energy and water bill, so it’s worth choosing a house that is or can be as efficient as possible.

“The difference between an efficient and an inefficient home can mean hundreds even thousands of dollars per year on your energy bills,” said Energy Services Supervisor DuWayne Dunham. “Extrapolate those numbers over the years or decades you’ll live somewhere and you’re talking quite a bit of money.”

To get a sense of what your future energy expenses will be, get a good look at the house and consider a call to Clark Public Utilities.

Start with the home’s age. Those built after 1990 met energy codes that prioritize energy conservation. That means the windows are vinyl framed and double-paned, the insulation is thick and the home’s envelope was sealed pretty tight at time of construction.

Homes older than that had lower energy-efficiency standards, but previous owners might have upgraded certain features to a higher standard.

When you’re walking through your potential home, pay close attention to the insulation, windows, heating system, water heater and exterior doors.

The performance of the heating and cooling system, which has the greatest influence on the utility bill, is directly related to the quality of the home’s insulation and window type.

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A home with thick insulation is similar to a high-quality cooler. They hold their interiors at a desired temperature for long periods. Conversely, a thinly insulated home’s climate control system will have to work harder. So the thicker the better, especially in the attic and beneath the floors, but proper ventilation is important, too.

Next, look at the windows. Vinyl- or wood-framed windows are ideal. Metal-framed windows allow a lot of heat transfer between the indoors and outdoors. Plus, they can be drafty. 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.

You’ll be using your heating and possible cooling systems for much of the year, so you want to be sure they’re efficient.

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 (95 percent efficient) will be more cost effective to operate than an electric furnace. Most gas furnaces are 80 percent efficient.

Many homes have electric resistance water heaters. Heat pump water heaters cost more upfront but have significantly lower annual operating expenses than traditional electric water heaters.

Finally, check out the appliances. Newer appliances tend to be more efficient than older ones. Energy Star-rated appliances save the most energy.

Everyone’s consumption habits differ, but you can get a sense of a home’s performance by calling Clark Public Utilities. Customer service representatives can tell a potential homebuyer 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 ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.