Questions environmentally respectful homebuyers should ask

Questions environmentally respectful homebuyers should ask

Choices made around your home are the most effective way to personally contribute to the battle against the impending climate crisis and buying a new home gives you the chance to make a serious environmental upgrade. However, there are many features that impact the environmental footprint of a home and it’s hard to know what to look out for and which questions to. Generally, when you’re trying to minimize the environmental impact of your home you are trying to reduce the energy it consumes, which conveniently translates into cost savings!

Here’s some key questions to ask when you’re buying a home with the future of the planet in mind!

First, what are the EnerGuide ratings of the appliances?

Many new homes include appliances — washers and dryers, refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers. Washers and dryers are the biggest users of electricity in a home with a gas furnace and water heater. We never turn off our refrigerators and they consume the second-largest amount of energy, followed by ovens, stoves and dishwashers. Therefore, ensuring they have a good rating is essential to living in a more sustainable home.

The EnerGuide label works by showing how much energy a certain appliance consumes in comparison to other versions or brands of the same appliance. Obviously, the lower the energy consumption the better but anything with an extra Energy Star label at the bottom is what you’re really looking for. Products with the Energy Star label are considered to be the best in industry for energy consumption. The label below shows an example of an EnerGuide label with Energy Star Qualification.

There are five main items displayed on the label

  1. Annual energy consumption of the model in kilowatt hours (kWh)

  2. Energy consumption indicator, which positions the model compared with the most efficient and least efficient models in the same class

  3. Type and capacity of models that make up this class

  4. The model number

  5. The ENERGY STAR symbol

EnerGuide label.jpg

If possible, ask your realtor for a list of the appliances that come with the house and either ask for the EnerGuide figures of each or seek them out yourself. Get an understanding of which appliances are up to your standard and which may need replacing, doing this will allow you to get a more complete picture of the budget required to buy the property.

If you’re buying a pre-sale home make sure appliance EnerGuide details are in the purchase agreement. Sometimes the appliance listed in the marketing material isn’t available when they finish the construction and you’ll want to be sure they give you an equivalent replacement.

 

What technology is the building using to minimize its environmental impact?

There is a lot of technology that can be used to reduce the environmental footprint of your new home. It’s important to ask what features the home has and also how old they are. Toilets are a great example because water reducing technology has improved leaps and bounds in the past 10 years. A toilet that was considered an “eco-toilet” in 2012 could be a lower standard environmentally than any regular toilet today. By showing that you are knowledgeable about something like the environmental impact of the toilets, your realtor will appreciate how serious you are about buying a home with the environment in mind.

Other technologies to ask about are the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, rain water harvesting, and solar panels. Until 2010 most air conditioning units used a refrigerant chemical called R-22 and Freon that attacks the ozone layer (a layer in the atmosphere responsible for filtering out harmful UV rays), and although they are banned from being installed now, an older home could have a R-22 AC unit. Again, how old is the system? 20-40% efficiency gains can be made from upgrading a 10-year-old air-con system. On average, heating is responsible for over 80% of the energy your home consumes and therefore should be a big focal point for any discussion about the environmental impact of your new home. The heating system will have a EnerGuide rating, so be sure to look out for the ENERGY STAR symbol. The best heating systems for the environment are:

·        Heat pumps:

o   Air-source

o   Geothermal

·        ‘Smart’ thermostats

·        Wood pellet systems

·        Energy Star Gas/Oil furnaces and boilers

Red flag heating systems include:

  • Electric boilers

  • Gas fireplaces

  • Electric heaters (Though with hydro electricity this option is not awful)

 Source: Natural Resources Canada

Source: Natural Resources Canada

Be sure to get to low down on what technology is in the house and try to understand potential upgrades you may want to do in the future. Though there are many government rebates that can be claimed for environmental upgrades, it’s worth including upgrade costs in the overall cost for moving into a property.

Finally, what has been done to improve the building envelope?

The building envelope (the physical separation between the inside of your home and the weather outside) should be as air tight as possible to retain maximum energy but also be equipped to ventilate effectively so that the air is not stale. The envelope is made up of the windows, roof, walls, doors, and flooring. Ask questions to determine how old the various parts on the envelope are, and what materials were used for each aspect. Make sure to ask what quality windows the house has, and if they need upgrading consider this in your final cost of purchasing the home. The heat retention difference between single paned windows from the 70’s to triple paned, argon filled windows of today is phenomenal.

building-envelope.png

The primary functions of the envelope are to insulate and ventilate the house. The ventilation is likely to be more controlled by the HVAC system discussed previously, but there are many envelope considerations that will allow for optimized ventilation. How does the basement air ‘drain’? How have additional areas of the home been sealed, a porch for instance? Good ventilation will ensure you not only feel healthy breathing in your home but also prevent a situation in which the home is uninhabitable due to mold. You can ask your home inspector to confirm the information provided by the seller.

Summary

Energy accounts for 7% of overall household spending. So, to minimize your energy consumption in your new home the key questions to ask are:

1.      What are the EnerGuide ratings of the appliances and systems?

2.      What technology is being used to minimize the environmental impact?

3.      What has been done to improve the building envelope?

Be sure to find out about the HVAC system (the heating in particular) and find out the age of all the various parts of technology. Buying a home with the environment in mind will not only give you peace of mind when you move in, but it will give you a long run cost saving because of reduced energy bills.

The planet has finite resources, let’s all take steps to use as little as possible!

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