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Weatherization - How It Can Save You Lots of Money

Updated on December 3, 2017
Ken Burgess profile image

Grew up on Cape Cod, Mass, Army Vet., Fmr. Director of Energy Conservation programs, RE Agent, current residence the Space Coast, FL

Let's start off by talking about what Weatherization is and what that has to do with energy conservation, and saving you money.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program reduces energy costs for [income qualifying] households by increasing the energy efficiency of their residential homes, while ensuring their health and safety. It is the nation’s largest single residential whole-house energy efficiency program. ~ energy.gov

This program is not restricted to any age group, but prioritizes assistance to the disabled, elderly, and households with children under six years old, as well as those with the highest energy costs. Owners, as well as tenants, of single and multi-family homes may qualify providing they meet income-eligibility guidelines

The income guidelines vary from state to state, and qualifiers may exist that are not normally considered in other venues, in any case, applying for Weatherization is free, there are no fees or strings attached to the application or the energy audit process.

Some areas where Weatherization MIGHT improve your home

The Department of Energy estimates that 25% to 40% of an average American family's energy bill is wasted just through leakage, insufficient insulation, and failing ductwork. Proper "weatherizing" to address these issues could save that average family hundreds of dollars a year.

Insulating an Attic space can greatly help keep the heat in, or out, of a home. Insulation works best when air is not moving through or around it. So it is very important to seal air leaks before installing insulation to ensure that you get the best performance from insulation. A quick way to see if you need more insulation is to look across your attic floor, if the insulation there is below the attic floor joists, you probably need to add more insulation.

But don't rush out and buy some of that pink fiberglass and just throw some rolls up there, that would be the equivalent of throwing away your money. There are often more efficient products which would do the job better. For instance, a blanket of blown cellulose 16 inches thick in your attic provides an R-50 attic insulation and repels rodents keeping them from nesting in your home. Fiberglass is often used by rodents for nesting.

The Weatherization Program (if you qualify) will send an Energy Auditor to your home, he will come with a variety of tools and test your home's heating and cooling devices, he will inspect your attic, your ductwork, your basement or crawl space (should you have them) and conduct a variety of tests.

The Energy Auditor will then prepare a report and present to you the recommended actions the Weatherization Program would like to take to help reduce your energy costs or improve the health and safety situation of your home. This could include anything from replacing light bulbs with more efficient ones and installing smoke detectors, to the replacement of your heating system and entryway door. You have the choice to accept or decline these proposed changes, and they should come at no cost to you.

Often what can be an big culprit to high heating costs is a home being heated by an out-of-date heating system (or cooled by an out of date air conditioning system). Typically an older furnace or boiler can be well below 80% efficient, you can reduce your fuel costs by converting to a new high efficiency LP or natural gas system. An old standard gas furnace typically operates below 70%, even as low as 40% efficiency. This means only 70% of the heat generated is used to heat your home. The other 30% or more goes up the chimney – that’s 30 cents or more of every dollar wasted. (The reverse of this concept would apply in places like Florida and Arizona where lack of insulation and an older AC unit would cost hundreds extra on the yearly electric costs)

The table below (found at the Energy.Gov website regarding an article on furnaces-and-boilers ) can help you estimate the annual energy savings you could realize from upgrading your system. If you live in a cold climate, it’s usually best to purchase the highest rated furnace or boiler available:

Efficiency Savings based on every $100 dollars spent on fuel

Using the chart above, you can see that going from a system that is 70% efficient to one that is 95% efficient can save you more than $25 dollars on every $100 dollars spent on fuel. It can save you even more if that system also acts as an on-call water heater and you do away with your electric hot water heater (or oil boiler which heats water on demand with a coil). Hundreds could be saved yearly from your heating costs.

There are Federal tax rebates for making such a conversion, state and local tax rebates may apply, and local power companies often offer rebates in the hundreds of dollars for you to convert to a high efficiency heating system. There are websites out there that can help you find these rebates and resources (see resource links below) it takes just a little homework on your part.

This Public Service Announcement illustrates the services available through the Weatherization Assistance Program through the North Carolina Energy Office.

Some states have excellent energy conservation programs available to almost everyone, regardless of income. For instance, NY has the Green Jobs Green New York (GJGNY) program overseen by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) which provides free energy audits, and grants of up to $5,000 dollars for work done, for people who you would not think could qualify because of their income. For example in one NY county, a family of four that makes less than $89,000 qualifies for a free energy audit, and may qualify for a $5,000 grant and a 0% loan, or what is called an "Onbill" loan which incorporates any costs of the work you have done on your home (that is not covered by the $5,000 grant) to improve its efficiency into your electric bill (a minor increase spread over ten or fifteen years).

Again, every state is different, and it takes a little time and effort on your part to do the research and find out about what programs are available to you.

In Florida, the Weatherization Program has significantly different income qualifications, in Brevard County for instance a family of four only qualifies if they make $47,700 or less nearing half the income noted above for NY. And in Florida the focus is more on Air Conditioner repair or replacement and Water saving components than in NY where the focus is on heating systems and insulation.

It could well prove worth your while to take a little time and effort looking into the Weatherization Assistance program, it could save you hundreds of dollars a year on your electric and fuel bills, and come at no cost, or little cost to you. It could improve the health quality of your home (detecting such health hazards as flue gases and mold) as well as your comfort level (drafty rooms airsealed, poorly operating heating system replaced).

  • The author of this Hub, Kenneth Burgess, is BPI trained and certified, and has worked in the field for several years as a Director of Energy Conservation, and a Director of Weatherization.

© 2013 Ken Burgess

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