Buying or Renovating a Home? Make Sure it Meets Building Energy Codes

If you’re in the market for a new house or renovating your old one, watch out: Your dream home might be wasting energy because it’s not built to code.

Don’t know if your house is built to code? You’re not alone. Although energy codes affect most people, there are few good resources for consumers. That’s why the Alliance to Save Energy’s Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and Consumers Union teamed up for the Energy Code Awareness Campaign, which can help you find out if a house is built up to snuff and what to do if it isn’t. 

How Do Building Energy Codes Affect My Home?

    Interactive Energy Code Guide for Homes

Energy codes are minimum requirements for efficient building design and construction. If your house meets these requirements, it will use less energy – and you will pay less on your utility bills. In fact, a home that complies with the current national energy code can save homeowners $235 or more each year compared to an average new home that does not meet the code.

Unfortunately, most buildings across the United States do not meet the national energy code. But learning the main tenets of the code will help you know what to ask the builder, seller and home inspector. Just use BCAP’s in-depth and interactive code guide, which walks you through eight areas of the house. No time for a detailed tour? No problem. Zip through this quick energy code checklist, which includes definitions of technical terms.

To help you determine whether a new home was built with at least the minimal, modern-day, energy-efficient building practices, both the interactive guide and the checklist feature key aspects of the national energy code that are easily visible in a new house after construction is complete:

  •  Insulation
  • DuctsHome Energy Code Checklist
  • Windows
  • Lighting
  • Air Leakage
  • Thermostat
  • Fireplace
  • Blower Door Test
  • Energy Certificate

And if you’re in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri or Nebraska, you’re in luck: BCAP has checklists tailored just for you.

Know Your Energy Rights

If you went through the checklist and don’t think your house meets the requirements, ask your contractor for additional documentation showing the home meets standards for energy use. Failure to provide this documentation gives you a strong argument to insist on changes to the home – and may signal that it's time to walk away.

The conversation doesn’t have to end as one door shuts. Contact your local building department to discuss your findings. And, on behalf of your community, become a building codes advocate.

Get Involved & Spread the Word

Building codes are important for your home, as well as all the homes in your neighborhood. Find out how efficient local homes are by determining whether your state meets national standards and whether they are being enforced. If your state has not adopted an up-to-date energy code, you can get involved in local and state advocacy; key actions include:

  • Becoming a member of your regional energy efficiency group
  • Reporting on whether builders are complying with energy codes in city council meetings
  • Making a presentation about building energy codes to your neighborhood association or local building inspection department local energy office
  • Participating in state-based consumer campaigns already underway in Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio and Michigan
  • Starting your own campaign to educate consumers and strengthen adoption and enforcement of energy codes in your state

More Energy Code Resources

The BCAP website features a variety of tools for homeowners and buyers in its Consumers Take Action section. These tools can also be found on the Consumer Reports Greener Choices website. You also can follow along with our video to see how to access the energy codes resources.