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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Homebuyers should note residence’s energy costs

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: June 8, 2024, 6:06am

Buying a home is a complicated process. No matter how confident a buyer is in their budgeting process, unforeseen costs almost always slip in at some point. One of the costs which is often overlooked by homebuyers but may be an important factor when deciding whether to purchase or pass is the utility expenses.

“Houses are similar to cars in that they’ll be more or less efficient depending on their size, the year they were constructed and how they’re equipped and maintained,” said Clark Public Utilities Energy Counselor Mike Wood. “Any or all of those elements will influence a home’s energy consumption and by extension the household’s utility budget.”

Energy efficiency and thus utility costs between homes can vary widely. If you’re a buyer on a budget looking at two similar homes, their energy performances might help shape your decision.

To get a sense of a home’s energy performance, note a few of their specific characteristics and consider a call to Clark Public Utilities.

Beyond the family budget, more efficient homes also tend to feel more comfortable and less drafty. They can maintain preferred temperatures longer and don’t have as many or as dramatic swings in temperature than less-efficient homes. In general, homes built after the 1990s tend to be quite efficient, thanks to higher standards implemented in the Washington state building code. But issues with air leaks, outdated appliances and HVAC issues are possible.

Homes built prior to the ’90s tend to have higher energy costs than newer homes of equal size unless they’ve been upgraded. That’s because they were typically constructed with less insulation, often used zonal heating systems, and might have comparatively less-efficient water heaters and windows compared to their newer counterparts.

Whether the home runs on gas, electricity, a combination of the two, or is heated by an alternative fuel source, the structure of the home itself will have a significant influence over how efficiently those resources are used, the cost of those utilities, and, ultimately, how comfortable the people inside will be.

Older homes can be updated to achieve sometimes significant energy waste reduction (and thus lower utility expense), but it’s up to each person to decide whether the comfort and long-term cost savings is worth the time and investment upfront. Clark Public Utilities has many rebates for electrically heated homes to help offset the cost of the initial investment. Call or visit our website for more details.

When touring a home, note its condition and characteristics. See whether it has systems like a gas or electric furnace, heat pump, metal or vinyl frame windows, a heat pump water heater or standard electric tank heater, insulation in the floors and attic, appliances, etc. That will give a general sense of how efficient a home may be and a starting point to compare to other homes on the market.

Understanding how all of those factors come together to affect a home’s utility bills is a challenge, only made more difficult when a home has a mix of technologies and improvements. For example: a house may have thin insulation but is conditioned by a ductless heat pump.

A call to Clark Public Utilities can help make better sense of what to expect from a particular home’s energy performance. Customer service representatives can tell potential buyers a property’s lowest and highest electricity bills for the previous 12 months.

“Those numbers aren’t a perfect snapshot, because they can be heavily influenced by the weather and previous occupant’s personal habits and their needs, but they can help you imagine what the costs may be to you,” Wood said.


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.

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