Buying and renting tips
Whether you're buying or renting, it’s sensible to assess how warm and comfortable a potential home is, and how much your energy bills might be.
- Winter sun
- Water heating
- Buying and renting checklist
It's fairly straightforward to check whether a home has adequate ceiling and underfloor insulation and, if it hasn't, whether it can easily be installed.
Without an accessible ceiling or subfloor space, retrofitting insulation will be much more difficult and costly. If the home was built before 1978 it is unlikely to have insulation in the walls or any skillion roof, unless it has been retrofitted later. If you buy a home with sub-standard insulation, remember to budget for upgrades.
All landlords are required to provide a statement on new tenancy agreements about the location, type and condition of insulation in the home. In addition, all rental homes will be required to have ceiling and underfloor insulation by 1 July 2019 (where it is practical to retrofit). If you’re looking to rent a home that does not have insulation in the ceiling or floor yet, talk to the landlord about when they are intending to get it retrofitted.
Used properly, a good heating system makes it easier and less expensive to keep your house warm - especially if the insulation is up to standard. Clean effective forms of heating include heat pumps, modern wood or wood pellet burners and flued gas heaters. Avoid unflued gas heaters (with pipes fixed to the walls or portable) which release toxic fumes and moisture, and open fires which are draughty and inefficient.
A damp home can be an unhealthy living environment. Find out if a home is damp by:
- checking for signs - like musty smells, mould or water stains on walls, ceilings or under carpets and dampness under the house
- looking for extractor fans (externally vented) - in kitchens and bathrooms, which are important for managing indoor moisture effectively
- getting the house inspected before you buy - by a registered or accredited building surveyor. Make sure the inspection includes moisture content measurements to identify any hidden leaks and moisture problems in building materials.
Rooms with unshaded windows on the north-facing side of the house get more heat and light from the sun, making them warmer and more pleasant to live in during the cooler months.
Remember that the sun's position is lower in winter, so objects cast longer shadows. Look for any objects that may shade your northern windows in winter. You can easily find out how much sun a home gets at different times of the year by using an app like Sun Seeker on your smart phone or tablet.
In winter, heat can escape through windows that aren't sized properly for the direction they face - even if they're double-glazed. Ideally, windows should be moderately large on the north-facing side of the house, small on the east and west sides, and even smaller on the south side. It's a real plus if you find a home with double glazing. It reduces heat loss, noise and window condensation.
Curtains can also reduce heat loss through windows. To be effective, curtains must be fitted close to the window, wide enough to generously overlap the window frames at the sides and long enough to touch the floor. A pelmet at the top is even better. In addition, the best curtains are double-layered with a separate lining fabric.
Some hot water systems are cheaper to run and have less impact on the environment than conventional electric or gas hot water systems, for example solar water heating, heat pump water heating and wetback (wood) water heating.
Recessed downlights are common in many homes, but most older downlights installed before mid-2012 are inefficient, can create draughts and require clearances that compromise the ceiling insulation. You can replace them with efficient LED downlight fittings (with an IC, IC-F or IC-4 rating) that can be insulated over, though the replacement cost can be significant if there are many downlights to replace.
If the home you're looking at comes with appliances - a fridge, dishwasher, clothes washer or dryer - check whether they’re still in good working condition and are energy efficient.
A few things to look for are the condition of the fridge and oven door seals, approximate age of the appliances, and whether the clothes dryer is vented to the outside.
Use this checklist to give you an indication if a home you're looking at is likely to be an energy-guzzling icebox or a warm, comfortable, energy efficient home.
Find out if your home is warm, dry and healthy
Use HomeFit to find out if your home is warm, dry and healthy - it's a free online check designed by the Green Building Council.