Owners of older homes should think about energy upgrades   

Rick Chantry 

Look at any national map these days, and you will see a lot of red that has nothing to do with politics. It’s summer. It’s hotter than normal in many places, and home electricity prices are up and headed higher.  

2022 President
Association Spokesperson

That puts homeowners – who are on the receiving end of endless debate about why energy prices and up and who’s to blame – in the position of finding ways to manage the cost burden. We have it a little better here in Tennessee. The January-to-January electricity cost was up only 11%. For those who live in Hawaii, the price hike is better than double that.  

Higher energy prices have an added impact on the housing market here in the portion of NE Tenn. and SW Va. that the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors® (NETAR) monitors. Most of the existing homes have a kindred relationship to our demographic. They’ve got some years on them. In fact, better than every other home in the region is 52 years old or older.  

While many of those homes have been upgraded, it’s safe to say that many are not as energy efficient as those being built today. That’s a marketing concern for owners of these older homes, and a monthly cost issue for those struggling to stay ahead of inflation. 

When real estate professionals look at local Millennials entering their prime home-buying age and the local housing stock, there’s an energy cost and efficiency challenge.  

Affordability and inventory get most of the media attention. Still, many of today’s home buyers put energy efficiency high on their “must-have” list. There’s also a preference issue. Most existing home buyers want something that’s no more than 10 years old. That means owners of older homes should consider adding energy-efficient muscle to their marketing plan.  

A strong selling point for today’s new homes is dramatic improvements in energy efficiency due to improvements in materials, building standards, and advances in appliance technology. But there are things owners of older homes can do to mitigate the new v. old energy use issue. 

They can start with an energy audit. There are local firms that offer this service. Another source is power companies. Audits usually offer short-term and long-term options. The short-view is lower-cost improvements for immediate results. The long view typically includes big-ticket items. It’s an information benchmark for an upgrade to-do list include.  

Here are a few primary options:  

  - Insulating or re-insulating attic spaces. It has a major impact on both heating and cooling costs. A home properly sealed and insulated can lead to an annual energy cost savings of 15%. 

– New windows and doors score high on the upgrade wish list but can be a big-ticket item.  

- Many older homes can make big energy efficiency gains with new technologies. Digital controls are one example. They make it possible to automatically adjust heating and cooling levels in concert with peak need-and-use times. Another example is the ability to set those digital controls to heat a home’s downstairs during the day and the upstairs at night.  

– Hot water heaters and piping are big energy users. While better insulation helps, tank-less water heating units can be good upgrades. Still, like the energy-efficient windows, there’s an upfront investment. The payback comes over time because the tankless systems only heat water when needed.  

– If an older home also has older appliances, consider newer energy-saving models. Compared to replacing windows and doors, this can be a less expensive alternative, resulting in some energy-efficiency eye candy.  

As with any home upgrade, it’s important to keep tight control on costs and return on investment expectations. If the project involves contractors, multiple estimates are prudent and be sure to check out the contractors’ references. To expand on your library of tips about saving on energy costs for any season, check out the National Association of Realtors® sponsored House Logic at http://www.houselogic.com/green-living/ .    

NETAR is the voice for real estate in Northeast Tennessee. It is the largest trade association in the Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia region, representing over 1,800+ members and 100+ business partners involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries. Weekly market reports and information for both consumers and members are available on the NETAR website at https://netar.us