When you walk into a potential new home, you want its features to tick off your boxes: bedrooms, bathrooms, backyard, etc. The energy efficiency of the space, however, often gets overlooked in favor of scrutinizing kitchen cabinet finishes or hardwood floors. To avoid the sticker shock of that first energy bill, here are the top 6 places you can look to ensure a house is energy efficient — or could be made to be — before you make an offer.


1- Smart Thermostats

Conscientious sellers know that interior upgrades can raise the value of a house. A relatively simple upgrade to look out for is the installation of a smart thermostat. These learning devices can raise and lower interior temperatures to optimize energy use — by, for example, lowering AC during the day when everyone is at work and kicking it on a half hour before everyone comes home to ensure a temperate environment. According to some models, homeowners can save up to 23% on heating and cooling costs, and some energy companies will even offer rebates to cover the upfront installation costs.


2- Eco-Conscious Appliances

Did you know that installing energy-efficient appliances can save up to $500 per year on energy expenses? Spend a few minutes searching the kitchen, laundry area, and heating/cooling elements to see if they have the Energy Star label. (A quick internet search of brands can also help.) If they do have these appliances, make sure they are included in the purchase-and-sale agreement.; if they aren’t, consider an offer that would account for the purchase of new green appliances of your own.


3- Lots of Natural Light

The benefits of sunlight range from positive mood changes to reduced energy bills. Look through the windows when considering daylighting advantages — the view actually matters less than the cardinal direction you’re facing. According to Energy.gov:

  • South-facing windows admit winter sun but keep out direct light in the summer months.
  • North-facing windows offer even light and almost no unwanted heat.
  • East- and west-facing windows provide great morning and evening light, but admit a lot of heat in the summer and very little in the winter.


4- Windows, Doors, and Insulation

Cracks in door and window seals and insufficiently insulated areas can account for heat loss in the winter and cooling loss in the summer. Consider basements, decks, and exterior walls: Proper insulation will stop heat and cold from leaking in and out. New, properly seated windows and doors will also work smarter to keep temperatures consistent and season-appropriate, maximizing your heating and cooling efforts.


5- Ceiling Fans

Central AC and window units can turn a home into an icebox on even the most sweltering summer days — but that amount of power often isn’t necessary to make a space more comfortable. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council, “Ceiling fans can make a room feel 10% cooler while using just 10% of the energy of a central air conditioner.” When touring a house, look for rooms with existing ceiling fans or ceiling-mounted light fixtures that could be replaced with fans.


6- Past Energy Bills

It’s not unreasonable to ask the seller for a brief history of their energy and utility bills. This will give you the best idea of how much it costs to maintain the home and avoid potential budget shocks as the seasons change — especially if you are unfamiliar with the heating methods. Depending on the winter, natural gas and oil heat can be very expensive, as can a fleet of window AC units in the summer.


Energy-efficiency red flags don’t have to cost you the chance to own your dream home. Identify opportunities to improve and implement energy-saving measures to ensure you are using the right resources to cut back on both unnecessary energy usage and bloated monthly bills.