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Energy-Efficient Homes: Top Design Elements To Know

7-Minute Read
Published on October 7, 2020

Energy-efficient homes are increasing in popularity as homeowners become more interested in sustainability and living environmentally friendly lifestyles. However, for those who aren’t looking to purchase a newly built house, how can you distinguish a home as truly energy efficient? Does it just mean looking for appliances that take less power to use, or is there more to the equation? Let’s discuss what you should look for when buying an energy-efficient home.

What Is An Energy-Efficient Home?

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. So, an energy-efficient home is a property that is designed to use less energy while still providing the same level of protection, comfort, convenience and aesthetic appeal as a more traditional house would.

A simple example of practicing energy efficiency in your home 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 do so using less energy.

Benefits Of Having An Energy-Efficient House

Energy efficiency boasts more benefits than just better-burning light bulbs, including:

  • Saving you money on utility bills
  • Providing tax rebates (depending on what state you live in)
  • Minimizing your carbon footprint
  • Boosting the economy
  • Increasing your quality of life

Not to mention that, because of the growing popularity of energy-efficient homes, incorporating energy-efficient features in your home can increase its market value. In fact, a recent Freddie Mac study indicates that homes rated as more energy efficient tend to sell for 3% – 5% more than neighborhood comparables (comps).

Downsides Of Having An Energy-Efficient House

It’s possible that the only downside of an energy-efficient home is the upfront cost. Whether you’re purchasing a newly built home or converting your preexisting home, energy-efficient features don’t come cheap.

From home appliances, such as Energy Star products, to new insulation to smart home technology, building a new, energy-efficient house could cost homeowners more than a conventional home. For already-built homes, the cost to upgrade to energy-efficient features can reach well into the thousands.

However, the only thing higher than the cost to build or update to an energy-efficient house are 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 Non-Business Energy Property Tax Credit through the end of 2020.

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Common Design Elements Of Energy-Efficient Homes

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

Building Materials

Choosing to use more sustainable building materials, such as reclaimed wood, in the construction and repairing of a home is one way a homeowner can be sustainable and more energy-efficient in their design choices.

Additionally, there are building materials that can increase a home’s efficiency, including:

If you’re building a new home or upgrading a pre-existing home, making the choice to generate less waste by incorporating sustainable materials into the design of your property can not only improve its energy efficiency, but it will also reduce the amount of waste being disposed of in landfills or incinerators.


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 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.

Appliances And Utilities

Your appliances could be the culprit behind high energy bills, but that’s where energy-efficient appliances come in. Energy Star appliances not only offer savings on energy bills, but since 1992 they have also contributed to a 3.5 billion metric ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions often caused by products with inefficient energy use.

Additionally, be sure to inspect your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, because leaking duct systems can cause you to lose thousands per year to 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.

 ‘Smart Home’ Systems

Smart home upgrades can not only make your home more automated, but they can also save you money on energy bills. Some popular upgrades include:

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

Although it’s an expensive addition, solar panels have a high return on investment (ROI) and can save you money on energy use, depending on your location. Some electric companies may even pay you for any additional energy that 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 meets specific environmental standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Visit the USGBC website to speak with a LEED representative about your home in order to see whether you fulfill the standards for qualification.

How To Assess Whether Your Home Is Energy Efficient

Incorporating the updates discussed here into your current or newly constructed home will not only improve the energy efficiency of your home, it will 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 audit of your home to determine how much energy you’re currently using and what upgrades will save you the most money.

Get An Energy Assessment

The U.S. Department of Energy can provide you with recommendations for energy assessors 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.

Get An Energy Audit

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

How To Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

There are more inexpensive ways to increase your home’s energy efficiency. Consider putting some of the following ideas into practice in your home:

Lower Your Thermostat

Adopt the habit of lowering the temperature on your thermostat while away from home. Dropping the temp by just 3 – 5 degrees can reduce your energy use and lower your monthly utility bill. According to, lowering your thermostat by 7 – 10 degrees for 8 hours a day can save you as much as 10% per year on your heating and cooling bills.

Limit Space Heater Use

Although electric and gas space heaters keep your feet nice and toasty under the desk during cooler weather, they aren’t the most efficient way to heat your home. Many space heaters use 1,500 watts of energy to run and can cause a spike in the cost of your energy bill. Be sure the model of your space heater is energy efficient. Or, consider layering clothing or investing in blankets instead of cranking up your thermostat.

Make Smart Water Choices

According to the EPA, the average household can save about $380 per year, as well as more than 2,700 gallons of water per year, by installing EPA-approved WaterSense showerheads and other fixtures. Installing low-flow showerheads can improve your home’s water efficiency, too. Low-flow showerheads have an average flow rate of less than 2.5 gpm (gallons per minute), while most conventional showerheads use 5 gallons per minute.

You also should turn off the water while brushing your teeth and avoid running small loads of laundry in your washer. A full load means more clothes get washed at once, which in turn conserves water (and money).

On a related note, it can be wise to avoid running your washer with hot water and opt for cold or warm water when possible. According to, 90% of the energy used by your washer is used to heat the water, and the other 10% is used to run the machine. This means using cooler water for every load can potentially save a significant amount of energy.

Start Composting

You don’t need a ton of space in your backyard to start a compost pile. Compost is the result of organic waste that’s kept in a pile or container that decomposes over time. Your fruit and vegetable waste not only becomes valuable fertilizer for your lawn or garden, but it also reduces the amount of trash you produce on a daily basis.

Find Your Ideal Energy-Efficient Home

Knowing what to look for when buying, building or selling an energy-efficient home is the first step toward cultivating a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. By making conscious choices to improve your individual environmental impact, you can feel good about doing your part to protect the planet while also saving yourself money on energy bills. It’s a win-win!

Ready to start looking for an energy-efficient home of your own? Talk to an expert at Quicken Loans® for answers to all of your questions!

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Call our Home Loans Experts at (800) 251-9080 to begin your mortgage application, or apply online to review your loan options.

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