01 Nov 2011

Winterizing Your Home? Get Help Paying For It!

photo credit: Andrea R/Flickr

When we decided to renovate our Wellfleet, Massachusetts home three years ago, we discovered we were changing just enough of the house to require bringing all of the electricity and plumbing up to current code. This meant removing all of the wallboard and insulation in the house to run the new wires and pipes–totally blowing our budget. We needed to find ways to save money, both for future energy costs and for the expense of adding energy-efficient features–and we needed to find it in a hurry.

Not so easy, as it turns out. The rebates, tax credits, and other savings that are out there are plentiful, but also constantly changing and overwhelming to wade through, even for somebody like me who’s a professional researcher.

It helped working directly with a local energy-efficiency agency: in our case, the county’s Cape Light Compact. They began by providing an energy audit by an engineering company, with recommendations for improvements. The energy audit was free, as it is in many places–check first with your local utility to see if they offer discounted or gratis energy audits. In my case, the audit was key because having it completed it made us eligible for financial help. (For a step-by-step approach to planning a home energy audit, see Smarter Living.)

Their suggestions dovetailed with everything I read on the subject of energy efficiency. In essence, it would be great to have solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and other alternative energy features. But the biggest bang for the buck–and first step–should be insulating and weatherizing the house as much as we could.

With the walls already open and the old, minimal insulation removed, we added new cellulose insulation, including an extra foot in the ceiling. We added an inch of solid foam on the outside before shingling to beef up the insulation further. We also replaced many of our windows with double-paned “low-E”glass, and sealed the air leaks around all the windows and doors. The low-E glass retains heat in cold weather and keeps it out in hot weather. We got a $500 tax credit for the windows and added insulation (that’s $500 off the bottom line of what we owed, not
just another tax deduction).

At the end of the project, the Cape Light Compact sent a team to measure the change in our energy efficiency. They estimated that the house was now about twice as efficient, and wrote us a check for $2,000 towards the cost of adding insulation. Every state has its own weatherization rebates (often derived from an energy-efficiency tax on utility bills); in my area, residents are eligible for 75% of the cost of insulation up to $2,000. This was in addition to the $500 tax credit above.

Some suggestions from the energy audit we couldn’t afford to do, including insulating our cement basement and adding storm doors. But we were able to get this work done last year by qualifying for an interest-free, forgivable loan through the HUD Community Development Block Grant program. The HUD money comes to each state; in our region the program is administered by the Cape Cod Community Development Partnership. To find out if HUD CDBG rebates are available in your area, contact your local municipal or county officials or a local HUD field
. Note that the State administers the program and determines which local governments receive funding.

Despite the rising cost of propane and the fact that our renovation made the house larger, our heating bill has remained below what it was before construction. The added insulation and low-E glass have kept the house so much cooler in hot weather that we’ve stopped using the window air conditioner we used to install each summer.

Above, I’ve outlined some of the key ways to get financial help with your weatherization, but there are more options out there. Principal among these is the U.S. Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides funds to help low-income residents make homes more energy efficient. To find out more about energy efficiency initiatives in your state, see the Department of Energy’s map of weatherization

Rebate Program Summary

  1. Check with your local utility for discounted or free energy audits and weatherization rebates
  2. Check for funds available from the U.S. Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program
  3. See the US Department of Energy interactive map for projects being developed by the Weatherization Assistance Program, the State Energy Program and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program
  4. Learn about HUD Community Block Grant Development programs at your local HUD field office or through your local municipal or county officials.
  5. Get up-to-date information on Federal tax incentives for home weatherization at The Tax Incentives Assistance Project.

Check this out: Gray is Green just came across this awesome service–1bog.org–that helps make solar power more affordable by letting you know of group discounts in your area.