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Does Your Home Need an Energy Upgrade?

Rebates have doubled for the home energy-efficiency program that reduces energy, saves money and improves home comfort.

Nadine Nakazawa thought her San Carlos home was a model of energy efficiency: She had just installed double-paned windows and even solar panels on the roof.

But when she requested a home energy assessment from the Energy Upgrade California program, she was shocked by the findings. Not only did the Energy Upgrade contractor find a health hazard—mold in the crawl space that was infiltrating into her home—he also discovered the home’s duct system was leaking, causing her central heating unit to lose about 40 percent of its heat.

To address these issues, the contractor sealed the crawl space with a vapor barrier, replaced the duct system and added new insulation to the attic.

The result? Her gas bills dropped by 40 percent to 50 percent, and her house’s temperature was more comfortable.

“For the first time this winter, my house felt warm,” she said.

Nakazawa is just one of the many San Mateo County residents participating in Energy Upgrade California, a statewide program launched in March that provides rebates to homeowners for carrying out home energy efficiency retrofits with approved contractors.

Financed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and utility ratepayer funds, the program is a partnership between the California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission, Department of Energy, San Mateo County and PG&E. The county just announced that it will be doubling the program’s rebates starting Tuesday.

To participate in the Energy Upgrade program, homeowners can choose from two packages: basic or advanced. The basic package contains a pre-set list of retrofits that prevent energy loss due to leaks and insufficient insulation, including air and duct sealing, attic insulation and hot water pipe insulation. The basic package can reduce a home’s energy use by about 10 percent. Rebates for this package—initially at $1,000—are now at $2,000 because of the county’s contributions.

The advanced upgrade package provides rebates for more extensive retrofits identified during a home energy assessment such as adding wall insulation, upgrading to energy-efficient windows or replacing a duct system, furnace or air conditioning system. Depending on energy savings achieved by these retrofits, a homeowner can now qualify for up to $8,000 in rebates instead of the original $4,000.

Why participate in the Energy Upgrade program? Making your home more energy efficient and reducing your energy use is not only good for the environment but it’s also good for your wallet. The program’s hefty rebates help cut down the cost of the initial retrofit, so you’ll start reaping the benefits of the energy savings faster. And if you’re worried about all the rebate paperwork, the Energy Upgrade contractor takes care of that for you.

An energy upgrade can also improve your family’s comfort, as Nadine Nakazawa can attest.

David Hamburger with San Francisco’s Building Efficiency, an Energy Upgrade-approved contractor, explained that saving energy and increasing comfort go hand in hand.

“In the same way we’re increasing comfort, we’re also increasing energy efficiency, so our furnaces are running less, our air conditioners are running less, saving more money,” he said.

The county’s additional rebates will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis while funds last. The original Energy Upgrade rebates ($1,000 for the basic package and $4,000 for the advanced) will be available until December 2012.

Visit EnergyUpgradeCA.org to learn more about the Energy Upgrade program or to get started by choosing from a list of approved contractors. Two approved contractors based in San Mateo County are Burlingame’s SDI Insulation and San Mateo’s Solar City.

Alexis Petru lives in San Bruno and is a staff writer for the national environmental website Earth911.com. Her column appears biweekly on Saturdays.

shab August 06, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Hi, how much did the homeowner pay the contractor, and please confirm the amount of rebate?
Alexis Petru August 07, 2011 at 11:15 PM
Unfortunately, the county and the homeowner did not want to give out info on the cost for her total project and the amount of the rebate. Project cost and rebate amount will vary depending on the retrofit the home needs, so if you're interested, find a contractor on the Energy Upgrade website - https://energyupgradeca.org/overview - to discuss your options.
RobertWilliams August 08, 2011 at 06:28 PM
MUST-SEE 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8JNFr_j6kdI

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