Buying a home is the biggest financial decision most people will ever make, and must be addressed accordingly.
When buying a home, or renting an apartment or a house, consider carefully its energy consumption.
Buying an Energy Star or other Qualified Home
Prefer Energy Star homes (in the US and Canada), high-energy rated homes (in Europe) or 6+ Star homes, in Australia, over non-qualified buildings..
Energy Star homes provide energy savings of 20-30% when compared do average buildings, and offer more comfort, better moisture control and a longer lifespan (see: Buying An Energy Star Home).
Professional energy audits for prospective buyers
In the US you can add – for a couple of hundred of dollars – a professional energy audit to the standard inspection.
Consider it, to know what’s “behind the walls”. That's very important for previously owned homes, and homes that have not been rated by government agencies, or whenever the energy certification is dubious.
An energy audit is a good way of safeguarding your interests during the negotiations with sellers and home realtors.
The best known energy audits are the HERS (Home Energy Rating System), and there are about 4,000 auditors in the US alone, which you can find on the Resnet site.
Assessing Homes yourself
A simple visual inspection can tell you a lot about a building.
Assessing the levels of insulation in the walls, attic and floors, or the airtightness of a house may not be easy and may require a professional audit, but there are other details that are easier to observe or to check.
Remember: an energy-efficient home is much more than a building with good levels on insulation in the attic, or without leaky windows, or with upgraded lighting or some high-efficiency appliances; that counts and should be taken into consideration, but it’s not enough, especially in harsher climates.
What you should value Most
When buying a home, do not undervalue features such as landscape, shading, windbreaks, the location or the house's orientation to the sun (or its protection from the sun, in hot climates).
Pay attention to the layout of the house: are living areas facing the winter sun ( in cold and mixed climates)? Are they designed to get breezes and ventilation, in hot climates?
Be aware of large homes (they are difficult to heat and cool; they are energy wasters); or homes with a large HAVC (heating, cooling and ventilation) equipment.
See if the windows aren't too large, or too small; consider their position and size in the different sides of the house. Inspect the type of glazing, its SHGC (for sun protection) and its U-factor (to minimize heat loss in winter), or the frame materials (prefer fiberglass, or PVC over aluminum) and insulation…