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Energy Advisor: Choosing a new home with energy in mind

January 6, 2022 | Julie Wasson | energy efficiency, energy savings, tips
choosing a new home

Does opening your blinds to direct sunlight actually warm a room? What exactly should you be looking for, energy efficiency-wise, when buying or renting a home? Do you need an energy audit – and what is that? These types of questions are rarely answered in typical energy efficiency tips.

For each month of 2022, OPPD’s Energy Advisor Eric BenSalah will provide insight into some of the lesser-known aspects of energy efficiency.

This month: Choosing a new house or apartment

Homes now contain more and more energy technology than ever before. Even “updated” older homes can contain a smart thermostat or new HVAC system. All of this new technology means homebuyers need to assess all of their energy options when choosing a home if they want to be energy- and cost-efficient and safe.

There are plenty of things you have to do and think about when choosing a house or apartment. You can find a number of “walkthrough checklists” online to help you evaluate your next home. The tips below can help you ensure your home is in good working order – add them to your checklist.

Lights

  • Do all of the light fixtures and switches work?
    • It can even be helpful to bring a couple of LED bulbs with you to test light sockets with missing or burned out bulbs.
  • Remove any fixtures that cover the light bulbs to make sure they are in safe, working condition.
    • Old light sockets can wreak havoc on incandescent bulbs, causing the bulb to break with the plug still inside the socket. This leaves the filament out and can pose a safety risk, and broken bulbs are fairly difficult to remove.

 Outlets

  • For less than $10, you can purchase a receptacle tester (a fancy name for an outlet tester) that will tell you if the outlet is wired correctly, reversed, open ground, etc.
    • How an outlet is wired may not make or break whether you purchase or rent the home or apartment, but it will at least alert you to potential hazards to yourself or your electronics.

A ground fault circuit interrupter on an electrical outlet in a kitchen.

  • Are there outlets near water? Check around the bathroom sink, kitchen sink, etc.
    • If there are, check to make sure they’re ground fault circuit interrupter outlets, which  can detect  interruptions in the current and cut power within 1/30th of a second.
    • If they aren’t GFCI outlets, consider replacing them for safety.

Plumbing

  • Checking water pressure is important, and should be done. Verifying that the waste water from the home is flowing properly is even more important. Turn on the sinks and showers then flush the toilets. In the basement, there will be a drain. You do NOT want that drain to back up under any circumstance.
  • If there is a large tree in the front yard, it is worth having an inspection of the main line to the sewer done to ensure the roots have not caused any issues with the pipe. That pipe is the homeowner’s responsibility if something were to happen to it (i.e. breaks, clogs, etc.).

Heating, air-conditioning and ventilation (HVAC)

  • Heating (furnace)
    • If the furnace has a humidifier, check the filter inside. These need to be replaced regularly, but are often overlooked. Mold and mildew can accumulate on them over time.
    • Make sure the drain lines coming from the furnace are flowing freely to the drain in the floor. You can pour warm water down the tubing to verify this.
    • Check for any damage on the flue pipe coming from the furnace up to where it vents up and out of the home. Any holes or damage could potentially leak carbon monoxide into the home.
  • Air-conditioning
    • Make sure the outside unit is in good condition.
    • The fins should be in good shape and clear of any debris (dust, leaves, dryer lint, etc.)
    • The unit should also be fairly level or on solid ground/mounting. (This is different from heat pumps, which are angled slightly back.)
  • Ventilation
    • You can do this once you move in: Be be sure to remove the return air registers from the wall and vacuum up any lint, dust, hair, etc., on the inside of the register as well as in the slot in the wall where it attaches.
    • If you have exhaust fans, be sure they are cleaned and clear of dust and lint; you can do this by using the brush attachment on your vacuum. Clogged exhaust fans or return registers cause unnecessary and damaging strain on the system.
    • Plan to go through one or two filters in a fairly short time, especially in older homes or if the home previously had pets.

Fireplace

  • If the home has a gas fireplace, be sure to remove the front covers and clean out any accumulated pet hair, dust, etc. Accumulated debris can pose a potential fire hazard; be sure to clean and maintain a gas fireplace properly.

Learn more about OPPD’s Energy Advisor program here.

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About Julie Wasson

Julie Wasson is the managing editor of The Wire and a brand journalism strategist at Omaha Public Power District. She has more than 25 years of print journalism and social media experience, including two stints at the Omaha World-Herald.

View all posts by Julie Wasson >

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