6 ways to help ensure your newly built home is comfortable and energy-efficient

April 12, 2019 by Joan Churchill

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No doubt you’ve lived, at some point, in a home with flimsy windows, no soundproofing or inadequate heating. No one likes to have to wear a coat inside or hear private conversations from the neighbours. Not very comfortable or energy efficient. When it comes to buying a newly built home, your comfort options have improved, and I’m not talking only about stainless or quartz.

When I bought a house, I could only afford a drafty little fixer-upper an hour’s drive from work. I spent seven years renovating it by myself, so I knew what type of insulation I installed, spent countless hours researching the best kind of natural gas water heater and furnace for my home and lifestyle, and even designed the style of the new ENERGY STAR® windows that replaced my paper thin, single pane ones. 

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My little fixer-upper 

But eventually I realized that renovating a pre-war bungalow was a never-ending job. Plus the commute was a killer. So I decided to downsize and bought a newly built townhouse closer to work. 

If you’re considering buying new, there are lots of new single family homes, condos and townhouse developments to choose from. The BC Building Code incorporated energy-efficiency requirements for new home construction in 2008, and since then, technologies to make a home more efficient have improved and become more cost-effective. But the available options to build an energy-efficient home go above and beyond minimum building code. Meaning some new homes are more energy efficient than others. 

When I was shopping for a townhouse, sales centre staff would boast about quartz counters and multiple bathrooms, but met my questions about windows, insulation and water heating with a blank stare. So if you’re shopping for a new home and comfort and lower energy bills are a priority, here are some things to look for.   

High-efficiency water heating

The new townhouse I bought has a high-efficiency condensing natural gas tankless water heater, which heats the water only when you need it—meaning you never run the risk of running out! Even better, heating water with a natural gas water heater costs about half as much as it does with an electric one. 

High-efficiency space heating

Nothing beats the comfort and evenly balanced warmth of natural gas space heating. If the home has natural gas look for a high-efficiency space heating system. This could be an ENERGY STAR® furnace between 95 and 99 per cent efficient. Or, a new technology some builders are incorporating is a combination heating and hot water system, which does the work of space and water heating in one system. 

ENERGY STAR windows and doors

Look for windows that are double or triple paned and have an ENERGY STAR certification. This will help to keep out noise and prevent heat loss in winter and hot air in summer from sneaking into your home. 

Insulation and air tightness

Ask the sales team to provide details on the insulation that will be installed. If some units are under construction you may be able to have a peek at what’s being used. You should also ask if the builder’s construction methods minimize air leakage, such as eliminating gaps around windows and doors.  

Gas really is good

Last winter during one of our many—and increasingly more common—storms, I lost power for about eight hours. Dinner was by candlelight, but it wasn’t cold thanks to my natural gas cooktop which still works during a power outage. And while I don’t have a gas fireplace, those who do will be warm and well fed during a power outage, as gas fireplaces will work also during a power outage. And one task I don’t miss is lugging a propane tank home because now I have a natural gas barbecue hook-up. Oh and did I mention how I like to have warm baths in the winter months? For those, my tankless gas water heater provides instant, affordable hot water. 

Rebates and awards

Ask the builder if the home(s) has qualified for any FortisBC rebates or received any awards or certifications for energy efficiency. We encourage builder/developers to build energy-efficient homes by offering them rebates for whole home energy performance or when installing high-efficiency natural gas space and water heating systems, fireplaces and dryers. If the home you’re buying is located in a FortisBC electricity service area,  we also offer builders rebates when they construct a home with electric space and/or water heating and include ENERGY STAR fridges, washers and electric dryers. And while you won’t get the rebate, you’ll enjoy the savings on your energy costs for years to come, as well as the comfort a well-insulated, energy-efficient home provides. 

As for me, I’m enjoying the fact that my energy costs are so low because my home is airtight, well insulated, and has ENERGY STAR windows and appliances and a high-efficiency gas water heater. Oh and the seven minute commute isn’t bad either!

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My dog Alfie in front of my new townhouse.

Learn more about energy-efficient new homes