Energy saving tips for home buyers

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An energy efficient home can save you thousands in heating costs. Here’s what to look for when buying or renting your next home

By Rob Hay from Voommedia

Homeowners in Australia’s southern states will typically see their energy bills spike over the winter months as temperatures take a dive. The extent of this spike, however, has a lot to do with the building, how it’s heated and, most importantly, how it’s insulated. An energy efficient home will not only save you money in the long term, it will also reduce your carbon footprint. So, if you’re looking to buy or rent, we’ve outlined a few things you might like to consider at your next open for inspection.

Heating

According to the Australian Government’s Your Home website, heating and cooling accounts for around 40 per cent of the country’s household energy use. With this in mind, it stands to reason that homes with an efficient heating system will keep you warm, snug, and smug in the knowledge that your comfort is not coming at a significant cost to you or the planet.

What to look for

Ducted natural gas and hydronic heating systems are generally the most efficient way to artificially heat your home. A zoned system will further help you save on heating costs as these allow you to heat only the rooms you’re using.

If the home has no inbuilt heating, chances are you’ll need to resort to an electric heater, which can be expensive.

Also, take note of whether the house or apartment has ceiling fans. As well as keeping you cool in summer, these will cycle warm air around the room and prevent it from accumulating at the ceiling. If possible, run these on reverse in winter as this will cycle the warm air around the room without creating a down draft.

Hot Water

Water heating is another major contributor to the size of the energy bill you’ll rack up in your next home. A study conducted for Sustainability Victoria found that upgrading from an electric tank heating system to a high-efficiency gas instantaneous system saved households on average $356 per year, while a gas-boosted solar hot water heater saved $510.

What to look for

When working out the probable size of your hot water bill, it’s important to note how water heating systems vary. One distinction is between tank or instantaneous. A tank system heats stored water for use when required. An instantaneous system – as the name suggests – immediately heats water when it is required. The advantage of an instantaneous system is that energy is not lost heating stored water. However, some electrical storage systems can be set to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates, which are considerably cheaper than peak rates. Generally, electric tank systems that don’t make use of off-peak rates, are the cheapest to buy, but are also the most expensive to run.

In regard to the method by which water is heated, electricity is generally the most expensive, while gas is slightly cheaper. Of course, this is dependent on gas prices, which have increased faster than the cost of electricity lately – so you might need to do some homework here. The most energy-efficient systems, and therefore cheapest to run use solar energy or heat pump technology. Not surprisingly, though, these are the most expensive to purchase.

 Home design and construction

Ultimately good design and construction will have the biggest impact on the energy efficiency of your next home. Effective insulation and passive solar design will greatly reduce the amount of energy you’ll need to keep your home at a comfortable temperature throughout winter.

What to look for

Homes that have been built using passive solar heating principles will greatly reduce the amount of artificially generated energy it takes to heat your home. In simple terms, passive solar design uses the sunlight to heat materials in the house that are effective at storing thermal energy. These materials are referred to as the home’s thermal mass. Brick, concrete, stone and tiles are all effective at storing thermal energy.

Of course, the house will need well-placed windows to allow the sun to heat these surfaces. Look for north-facing windows as these will allow sunlight into the house during winter daylight hours.

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