Guide to Energy Efficient Homes
Whether you’re building the home of your dreams or looking for an existing unit, there’s a lot of data involved in finding the right environmentally friendly dwelling. Here’s a breakdown of the different certification systems for energy-efficient homes.
RESNET – The Residential Energy Services Network is a not-for-profit corporation that develops industry-wide standards and rules for energy efficiency ratings and certification systems for buildings. In addition to overseeing the HERS index (see below), RESNET certifies contractors of all types, including builders, roofing and siding professionals, and remodeling contractors.
HERS index – The Home Energy Rating System is an index measuring a home’s energy efficiency. An average home built to current industry standards for energy efficiency will have an index of 100. A lower score indicates higher levels of efficiency (for example, a home with a score of 70 is using 30 percent less energy than the average home). The opposite is true with homes that score higher than 100. This index is overseen by RESNET.
LEED – The United States Green Building Council is the agency that bestows Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications on environmentally friendly buildings and projects. The highest certification a building can earn is “LEED platinum.” Projects earn points based on numerous categories such as indoor air quality and water efficiency. More points add up to a higher certification level.
Energy Star – The Energy Star program is overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Products such as refrigerators, light bulbs, and furnaces can earn Energy Star certifications. Separately, homes can be Energy Star–certified through an independent inspection.
Indoor airPLUS – This program is also administered by the EPA. Homes that go above and beyond the Energy Star requirements by incorporating additional features to combat moisture, mold, pests, and pollutants can earn this label.
National Green Building Certification – Overseen by the National Association of Home Builders, this program helps residential building professionals develop and build sustainable projects. Buildings can earn bronze, silver, gold, or emerald certifications. At the Emerald level — which is the highest certification a project can earn — a building “must incorporate energy savings of 60 percent or more.”
HOW TO Prepare to Buy a Home
Talk to mortgage brokers. Many first-time home buyers don’t take the time to get prequalified. They also often don’t take the time to shop around to find the best mortgage for their particular situation. It’s important to ask plenty of questions and make sure you understand the home loan process completely.
Be ready to move. This is especially true in markets with a low inventory of homes for sale. It’s very common for home buyers to miss out on the first home they wish to purchase because they don’t act quickly enough. By the time they’ve made their decision, they may find that someone else has already purchased the house.
Find a trusted partner. It’s absolutely vital that you find a real estate professional who understands your goals and who is ready and able to guide you through the home buying process.
Make a good offer. Remember that your offer is very unlikely to be the only one on the table. Do what you can to ensure it’s appealing to a seller.
Factor maintenance and repair costs into your buying budget. Even brand-new homes will require some work. Don’t leave yourself short and let your home deteriorate.
Think ahead. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your present needs, but you should also think about reselling the home before you buy. The average first-time buyer expects to stay in a home for around 10 years, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
Develop your home/neighborhood wish list. Prioritize these items from most important to least.
Select where you want to live. Compile a list of three or four neighborhoods you’d like to live in, taking into account nearby schools, recreational facilities, area expansion plans, and safety.
How To Hire a Remodeling Contractor
Shop around for the right company.
- Get at least three written estimates.
- Ask for and check references. If possible, look at jobs the contractor recently completed.
- Check with your local chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau for complaints.
- Be sure that the contractor has the necessary licenses and insurance, as well as the ability to obtain permits.
- Ask if the contractor’s workers will do the entire job or whether subcontractors will be involved.
Read the contract carefully.
- Be sure the contract states exactly what is to be done and how change orders will be handled.
- Check that the contract states when the work will be completed and what recourse you have if it isn’t.
- Make sure the contract indemnifies you if work does not meet building codes or regulations.
- Be sure that the contract specifies who will clean up after the job and be responsible for any damage.
- Ensure that the materials meet your specifications.
Seal the deal.
- Remember that you can often cancel a contract within three business days of signing it.
- Make a small down payment so you won’t lose much if the contractor fails to complete the job.
- Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the work. Obtain a paid receipt and final lien waiver from the contractor.