How to Avoid the 10 Biggest Mistakes Buying a New Home
Mistake No. 6 – Not Checking Performance:
How’s This Baby Going to Run?
If you have not heard of home performance, you are in good company. It is a
new concept being promoted to home owners nationwide. It is a common mistake to
ignore this important attribute because it can have a significant impact on how
well we enjoy living in our homes.
A high performance car is valued for many driving factors including ability to
hold the road, take tight turns, provide power on demand, and protect
passengers. Similarly, a wide range of energy efficiency features can improve a
home’s performance. Specifically, a home that performs well is comfortable in
extreme weather conditions as well as evenly across all rooms, free of drafts
during windy weather, quiet with minimal noise from both external and internal
sources, healthy to live in, and affordable due to low energy bills.
Many important energy efficiency measures contribute to high performance homes
including tightly sealed construction assemblies and duct systems, effective
levels of insulation properly installed, high-efficiency equipment, lighting and
appliances, and properly sized heating and cooling equipment. Brand new homes
and recently constructed homes that have earned ENERGY STAR label typically
include all of these measures verified with third-party inspections in
accordance with strict guidelines for energy efficiency established by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
For older and newer homes without the ENERGY STAR label, a Home Performance
Checklist is provided to help evaluate each home's energy efficiency measures.
This will require inspection of attics and basements as well as asking for
information where energy features cannot be readily observed. Note that the
recommended specifications included on the checklist assume significant heating
and cooling loads. You should use your own judgment or solicit expert advice to
adjust these recommendations for very mild or extreme climates. Note, where it
can be verified that a home is ENERGY STAR qualified, the top line allows you to
indicate this with a check. In this case, it would not be necessary to complete
the remaining checklist since the ENERGY STAR label provides assurance that the
home meets most if not all of the desired levels for energy efficiency measures.
When looking at resale homes, you can get a quick indication of home performance
by first reviewing prior year utility bills. Be sure to ask for them where not
provided. Excessively high bills of course raise questions. However, utility
bills alone don’t account for many behavioral factors that can contribute to
high or low monthly energy costs such as how comfortable inside temperatures
were maintained; how much wood heating was used; how many people lived in the
home; and how much traveling and work kept occupants away.
If you have concerns about high energy bills, or the quality and condition of
the energy efficiency features, consider contacting a professional Home Energy
Rating System (HERS) rater for a more detailed assessment. Certified HERS raters
follow national guidelines for auditing homes and making recommendations for
cost-effective energy efficiency improvements (see Mistake No. 9 for more
Note that the cost of adding energy efficiency upgrades after purchase can be
added to a mortgage with no extra down payment using an Energy Improvement
Mortgage (EIM). The result can be could a substantial increase in monthly
cash-flow where the small monthly increase in mortgage for energy efficiency
upgrades is significantly exceeded by the savings in the monthly utility bill.
For instance, if energy efficiency improvements result in $40 per month savings
on utility bills, but only add $15 to the monthly mortgage, you pocket $25 every
month or $300 per year. And your home is likely to be more comfortable, durable,
and healthier. If interested in financing energy efficiency improvements,
consult your mortgage broker for more information about EiMs and note that a
HERS rating is typically required. Since many brokers are not familiar with EIMs,
be persistent because this is the only way to include the cost of adding
cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades in a new home mortgage.
Information is also provided in this section on more advanced performance
concepts on a table called ‘Home Performance: Other Factors to Consider’. For
instance, homes perform best when most windows face south. This is because
south-facing windows capture more desirable winter sunlight, can be easily
shaded from the high summer sun, and are much preferred to west and east facing
windows that allow annoying glare and intense heat gain in the summer (the
morning and afternoon sun are extremely low in the sky, and therefore, difficult
Evaluating home performance is very important, often neglected, but worth the