What to look for in an energy efficient house

Shopping for a home in Fairbanks can be difficult, especially if energy efficiency is a priority. With heating oil prices volatile and resale value at stake, finding the most fuel-efficient home makes sense.

Following are just a few of the things to look for in an efficient home.

Site Location

  • South-facing slopes that are exposed to sunlight will be warmer in the winter and require less heating than comparable homes on north-facing slopes or obscured by dense tree canopies. Deciduous trees, such as Alaska birch, are desirable because they lose their leaves in winter and allow sunlight to shine through.
  • Ideally, homes should be situated lengthwise east to west in order to take advantage of the sun.
  • Protection from wind, provided by trees or hills, can help to conserve heat in winter. Low-lying evergreens or shrubs placed on the sides of a house that are exposed to wind will also help conserve heat.


  • Houses that share common walls with other structures, such as townhomes, lose less heat than standalone homes.
  • The overall shape of the house will affect heat loss due to the amount of wall space exposed to the elements. L-shaped, H-shaped, or U-shaped homes, for example, will tend to lose more heat than rectangular homes.

  • Arctic entryways that are sealed from the outside and the inside living areas by separate doors can help retain heat.

  • South-facing windows are preferable to windows on any other axis because they can collect sunlight and minimize heat loss.

  • Plumbing should be run inside heated or indirectly heated areas and consolidated as much as is practical. Sinks, baths, and laundry should be close to the water heater to minimize standby heat loss or, alternatively, on-demand water heaters can be used.



  • There’s a saying among energy raters in Alaska – “You can’t over-insulate, you can only under-ventilate.” When inspecting a house, ask how much and what type of insulation is in the floor, walls, and attic. Other than airtight construction, no other single factor will affect a home’s energy use more than insulation. But insulation without adequate ventilation will invite moisture problems.

  • All gaps and cracks in the house should be well sealed or caulked.

  • Doors and windows need effective weather-stripping.

Mechanical Systems

  • The performance of heating appliances such as boilers can vary widely and replacing an aging existing system can be expensive.  It’s not uncommon for heating systems to be oversized in relation to a homes energy needs, which can also contribute to efficiency losses.  Consider having the heating system professionally inspected to assess reliability and performance.
  • Doors and windows need effective weather-stripping.

  • Previous years’ fuel bills can help gauge heating costs, but be aware that the presence of a woodstove, pellet stove, or other heating appliance other than the boiler can make heating oil usage numbers misleading.

Home Inspections

  • Check to see if the home has already had an energy audit done.  An energy audit will provide a detailed assessment of the home’s energy performance and will help identify problem areas.  If energy efficiency is a priority, an audit/home inspection by a state certified energy rater can provide valuable insight into a home’s real world performance.