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Female home owner checking energy consumption on digital tablet using smart meter technology. She can control all the household systems from the one place. Graphics for the app have been designed by myself.

Energy-efficient homes are increasing in popularity as homeowners become more interested in sustainability and environment-friendly lifestyles. This interest is especially prominent in millennial home buyers, who have expressed a serious interest in green homes.

In fact, in a survey by the National Associate of REALTORS (NAR), nearly 10% of people 34 years or younger asserted they were willing to spend more money on a newly constructed home in order to incorporate green/energy-efficient features that would positively impact the environment and save on utility costs.

However, for  those who aren’t looking to purchase a new construction, how can you distinguish a home as truly energy efficient? Does it just mean looking for energy efficient appliances, or is there more to the equation? Let’s discuss what you should look for when buying an energy-efficient house

What is an Energy-Efficient House?

The phrase “energy efficient” means using less energy to produce the same service. It’s also used to describe any action that saves or conserves energy.

A simple example would be switching out your traditional light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. While both bulbs produce light, the compact fluorescent and LED bulbs does so using less energy.

Benefits of an Energy-Efficient House

However, energy efficiency boasts more benefits that just better-burning light bulbs. Energy-efficient houses can:

  • Save you money on utility bills
  • Provide tax rebates (depending on what state you live in)
  • Minimize your carbon footprint
  • Boost the economy
  • Increase your quality of life

Not to mention, because of the growing popularity in energy-efficient homes, incorporating energy-efficient features in your home can increase its value on the market. In fact, real estate agents are finding that green homes sell for 9% more than neighborhood comparables (comps).

Downsides of an Energy-Efficient House

Seemingly, the only downside of an energy-efficient home is the cost. Whether you’re purchasing a new construction or converting your pre-existing home, energy-efficient features don’t come cheap.

From home appliances like Energy Star products, to new insulation, to smart home technology, building an energy-efficient house could cost homeowners 5% – 10% more than a conventional home. For pre-existing homes, the cost to upgrade to energy-efficient features reaches the thousands.

However, the only thing higher than the cost to build or update to an energy-efficient house is the savings you can expect from having energy-efficient features in your home. Depending on your state, energy-efficient home improvements could also qualify for the Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit.

What Do You Need for an Energy-Efficient House?

Unfortunately, terms like “green,” “sustainable” and energy efficient are not only used interchangeably but liberally when defining a feature in a home, or the home itself. If you’re in the market for buying a house or looking to increase the value of your current home by adding energy-efficient features, here are a few common things to look out for.

Proper Insulation

Take a look at the windows, doors, attic and walls of the house. Are they properly sealed and insulated, or are air leaks slowly seeping through missed cracks?

Proper insulation provides a resistance to heat flow and lowers heating and cooling costs in a home. It helps keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer without making your heating or cooling system work overtime to regulate the temperature.

Window panes are an often-missed opportunity for energy efficiency. By installing two to three paned windows in your home, you provide an extra element of insulation as well as home security for your house.

Energy-Efficient Appliances and Utilities

Your appliances could be the culprit behind high energy bills. Energy Star appliances not only offer savings on energy bills, they reduce greenhouse gas emission and other pollutants often caused by products with inefficient energy use.

Inspect your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system as leaking duct systems can be causing you thousands in energy costs.

Additionally, making the switch to low-energy systems, such as LED bulbs or low-flow fixtures and toilets, can also save you money.

Energy-Efficient Building Materials

Choosing to use more sustainable construction materials, like reclaimed wood, in the building and repairing of a home, is one way a homeowner can be sustainable and more energy efficient.

Additionally, building materials like recycled steels, spray foam insulation, concrete and bamboo also increase a home’s energy efficiency. If you’re building a new home or upgrading a pre-existing home, talk to a professional contractor on which material works best for your home geographically.

Not to mention, making conscious choices on buying eco-friendly and other environmentally friendly products can go a long way in home construction.

Smart Home Upgrades

Smart home upgrades, like home hubs, smart lighting systems, energy meters and thermostats, security systems and other appliances not only makes your home more automated, it can actually save you money on energy bills.

Many smart home devices learn your habits and preferences and can suggest changes in your energy use based on your needs and how much money you want to save.

Solar Panels

While it’s an expensive addition, solar panels have a high return on investment and save money on energy use, depending on your location. Some electric companies may even pay you for any additional energy your solar panels produce.

However, solar panels might have an impact on the mortgage process, so make sure you speak with your lender before installing solar panels in your home.


In some cases, homes will feature LEED certification as a key selling point for energy efficiency. A home with LEED certification means that it met specific environmental standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

You can sign up on the USGBC website and talk to a LEED representative about your home in order to see if you fulfill the standards for qualification.

How Do I Improve the Energy Efficiency of My House?

Incorporating any of the above upgrades into your current or newly constructed home will not only improve the energy efficiency of your home, but also save you money in the long run.

Before you get started on upgrades, however, take a moment and get a quick energy assessment or an energy audit of your home to determine how much energy you’re currently using and what upgrades will save you the most money.

The Department of Energy can provide you with recommendations for energy accessors in your area. Considering factors like the home’s structure, heating and cooling, and hot water systems, the Department of Energy will assign a Home Energy Score that determines the energy efficiency of the home as well as recommendations for how to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program can also perform energy audits on your home to determine what you should upgrade. Home audits typically vary from free assessments to $500, depending on your location and your service provider.

Of course, there are low-cost ways you can make your home more energy efficient. The key is to make small but impactful changes in the way you operate in your home, like lowering your thermostat temperature and switching to compact fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Knowing what to look for when buying, building or selling an energy-efficient home is the first step to living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Not to mention, the energy savings speak for themselves.

Do you have any tips for buying or building an energy-efficient house? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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