Make Home Energy Improvements and Have the Government Pay You Back

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Introduction: Make Home Energy Improvements and Have the Government Pay You Back

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Many energy improvements pay for themselves over a period of a few years. The reduced rates that the improvements pass on to you in annual savings should be enough incentive to make the change when possible. But what if you could get someone else to reimburse you for all or part of the improvements? Many areas in the United States offer incentives to home owners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Energy improvements help more than your monthly utility bill. The environmental implications of making changes like these are significant as well.

Step 1: Find Programs

Before you do anything you should see what programs cover your area, demographic, or circumstances.

In most cases you'll need to own the home that you're making the improvements to. If you're a renter consider talking to the property owner about the improvements. Perhaps you can negotiate a trade by doing some of the labor if they buy the materials. They can knock your rent down in exchange for the work, you get lower utility bills and when they advertise to the next tenant they can brag about those lower utility rates and the energy efficiency.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficienc is a great place to start in the U.S. Canada has an energy efficiency program for those using the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation or check out the ecoENERGY retrofit program for making improvements to your home.

There is a wide variety of programs available. Everything from local utility companies offering rebates for the purchase of compact fluorescent light bulbs to federal tax credits for the purchase of a vehicle that uses alternative energy.

Once you have found a program on the DSIRE site then make sure the information is up to date by contacting the agency or checking their website.

Step 2: Have an Energy Audit Completed

You can go through your home and evaluate your energy efficiency. It shouldn't be difficult to find areas that should be sealed, or note where insulation is lacking or insufficient. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy's guide to DIY energy audits.

Some programs require a certified audit before and after your improvements to provide a measurable outcome from the improvements. A home energy rating certificate will need to be submitted to show the existing energy efficiency, then you make the improvements (or pay someone to make them), finally you have another audit completed. If you make the required improvements then you can submit for reimbursement for your expenses.

Step 3: Make Improvements

Use the recommendations from your energy audit to make improvements to your home. Keep receipts for all materials and labor for reimbursement.

Chances are pretty good that the improvements you will need to make will largely involve insulation and sealing air leaks.

I have taken advantage of two different programs for two different houses in the last 9 years. The first we put insulation in the floor and attic and sealed gaps and earned a lower interest rate on the loan. The interest rate reduction was significant enough that within three years the interest rate alone made up for the cost of the materials (we did the work ourselves). The improved energy savings probably bumped the break even point to just one year.

Recently, I qualified for up to $5,500 in reimbursement for my current home. The recommendations primarily included adding insulation to the attic and the crawlspace. I paid a few friends $10 an hour to help me get the work done but that expense was not reimbursable. (Strange that if i had contracted the work out entirely those costs would be reimbursable - paying some friends a few hundred dollars probably saved the state thousands.) But with the saved expenses i'm able to make even more improvements to the house that will save me money over the long run.

Step 4: Seal Gaps and Openings

Adding weather stripping o windows and doors is one of the least expensive and yet effective measures that can be taken to improve energy efficiency.

Sealing openings in the floor, crawlspace or basement wall, and other areas will also help. A bit of fiberglass insulation works well for very large openings. Expanding foam works for small holes. Caulk for even smaller rifts. And finally tape can be used to make sure air isn't transferring.

Step 5: Measuring and Cutting Rigid Insulation

Working with fiberglass batts is itchy ad uncomfortable work. But when you buy your insulation you can make sure it is the right thickness, width and facing for the job. With the rigid insulation some does come with foil facing, and you can choose the thickness, but you can't order so that it fits perfectly.

I found the following tricks handy for measuring and cutting rigid insulation.

First, have a friend or two to help you. Cutting is best done where you don't have the space and mobility limitations of a crawl space.

Measure the height from the ground to the floor or the bottom of the joist. Measure that height to cut a four foot piece of the material. You can set the tape measure to the desired length and then lock it. Use the casing of the tape measure to slide along the outside of the foam and the hook part of the tape measure to score into the foam. Use that line to cut on.

I found that a reciprocating saw with a long blade worked well for cutting the sheets. It did leave foam sawdust everywhere though!

Step 6: Vapor Barrier Dirt Floored Crawl Spaces

Hot air rises. And as it does it draws in cooler air to replace the air that has risen. Think of the house as a big chimney. Where does that air come from? A good portion of it comes from below the house. Even when cooling a house, hot humid air from below is introduced to the living space.

An important method of improving air quality in the home is to add a vapor barrier. This step is not likely to be covered in energy efficiency programs but it makes sense to take it on while you're under the house and improving the value of your property.

An increasing practice in construction is to insulate the walls of a crawl space instead of between the floor joists. This allows the area under the house to safely contain plumbing without fear of freezing. Un-vented and "conditioned" crawl spaces result in better moisture control in the home. Overlap the layers of vapor barrier and then tape the seams. Duct tape probably will not work - you should fork out the big money for a tape designed for the purpose.

Step 7: Insulate Walls

Most parts of the house you do not have access to add insulation. If you have vaulted ceilings then you might only be able to add insulation under your home. If you have no insulation in the walls seek a professional to have insulation blown in between the studs (presuming you don't want to overhaul the sheetrock).

But fortunately we generally have easy access to our basement or crawl space walls. Check out the EERE guide to crawlspace insulation and determine the best option for your situation.

Add as much insulation as you can afford. Cutting 4 inch thick rigid insulation will take just as long as 2 inch but provides twice the R value. It will cost twice as much though!

Step 8: Insulate Between Floor Joists

If you use rigid insulation, along two of the walls you will have to butt the foam boards up to the floor joists. You will need to fill between the joists with fiberglass batts or with pieces of rigid insulation friction fit into the openings. Be sure to seal any openings or gaps around the blocking.

Step 9: Insulate the Attic

If you have some insulation in your attic already you can buy unfaced fiberglass batts that you can lay at a 90 degree angle to the existing insulation. In my case, there was R11 insulation between the 2x6 joists. I decided that the resulting "wave" would not give as thorough a blanket as adding directly on top of the R11. I added R38 and took care to keep gaps between pieces to a minimum.

Remember to wear proper protective equipment when working with fiberglass insulation. and try to keep all of your weight on the joists - or use planks on top of the joists to keep from going through the drywall.

Step 10: Follow Up Audit and Documentation

Obviously there are other things which might be recommended for your audit. replacing windows, water heaters, and even a more efficient heating or cooling system might be in order. Make sure that your improvements meet the requirements of the program.

Determine how much the energy efficiency has improved for the home by conducting another energy audit. By installing insulation with the markings visible you ensure a faster and more accurate audit.

Follow the documentation provided by the agency for your reimbursement.

Bask in your warmer (or cooler), more energy efficient, less carbon producing pad!

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    45 Comments

    Lots of great ideas!! But on a side note the Government does not have money, they do not pay for anything, they only borrow money and then have tax payers take care of the payments.

    4 replies

    Not totally true. My state is in the black.

    What does your state produce to make it profitable? Taxation is theft

    Well, Alaska has no income tax. Nor does it have a statewide sales tax. And it returns a portion of the oil and gas investments to the citizens each year. The state has oil and gas taxes and taxes the fish that are commercially harvested. It sells land and logging rights. That said, the state is no longer in the black so I imagine this program isn't available any longer.

    Yeah I live in NC, between Duke Power's rebates and the federal tax credits, it saves you some money. However, Duke Power wont give you a rebate unless you use one of their approved contractors

    the simplest and cheapest insualtion is plastic bags. im gona get round to do my instrcutable on cheapest insualtion ever. all you need to do is collect plastic bags rather than throwing them away and scrunch them up a little and put them between the joists then put a flat piece of plywood over them as a floor. that way theres no issue with weight and the bagsd are free and not going to waste on a dumping ground this owrks by trapping air inside the bags and insulates the loft. its simple i have done it in my loft but only about 10% completed so far.i think i will ahve to do the instructable soon as i got some free time coming up soon what does everyone think

    2 replies

    The attic that i insulated had some plastic bags with packing peanuts tossed in one corner. That seemed like a good idea to me with the exception of the fire resistance. That's the biggest concern other that the ability for water vapor to escape. Showers, cooking and breathing all introduce moisture into the dwelling and a lot of it escapes to the attic where vents allow it to go outside. You might and up with water trapped in your improvised insulation.

    well in my house its ok with water vapour because the floor of the attic is insulated with normal glass fibre rolls and so is the floor of the first floor.the plastic bags are used in the actual apex of the attic underneath the tiles if you get what i mean.its a sheild against the cold air etc ????????

    I amplanning the vavop barrier in the crawl space but was wondering about the wall insulation you added. My crawl space is cinderblock. So you think this would create a moisture problem between the wall and the pink board? And just a comment. I have a real estate license in North Carolina and have been to many inspections. I have always seen paper backed insulation used under the house. The paper is installed facing the ground and rods are used to hold it in place, but I've never heard my inspectors say insulation is not good in this area. But, I guess we don't get as much rain? And as an added benifit, if you have a water leak you can usually find it cause it falls down or gets water stained.

    1 reply

    Sorry that I never replied to your comment. I saw illustrations on a federal website that showed vapor barrier installation in a cinder block crawlspace. I didn't pay too close attention though because it didn't apply to me. A google search should find the answer for you.

    I live in the northeast, Maine, and recently had all the windows replaced in my nearly 100 year old house. I was amazed at the savings this improvement has already generated in regards to heating the house. So, it does make a difference and is well worth the expense.

    When sealing pipe/electrical chases, you may be required by fire/electrical codes to use fire barrier material. Dap and Great Stuff both have fire barrier foam. Both are an orange foam, for easy ID after installation. When sealing a chimney chase, use steel flashing to bridge the gap between framing and the chimney, and close the final gap between chimney and flashing with high-temp silicone sealant (not a latex/silicone combo).

    1 reply

    Great bit of information - thank you.

    Had an energy audit years ago, the auditor said that the whole replace the windows to save energy was marketing BS. Until the windows are the only thing left to replace leave them alone, other problems leak heat much faster than the glass panes. You need to fix the 'air' leaks before you worry about the radiant leaks. Even then it makes no sense to put high R windows into a low R wall, you won't get an ROI.

    1 reply

    Just a personal anecdote, here in the Northeast a lot of houses have a certain type of really old window, and they never seem to seal well at all. My then-fiance had all the windows replaced on her house, and the results were drastic. The problem was all the air leaks, which could have been addressed with foam tape constantly being reapplied or the (more traditional here) shrink-wrap plastic taped over the window. But replacing the windows, while expensive, did make a huge difference for the house. It's probably not great in terms of straight ROI, but it can make a huge difference for old houses with bad windows. Just an anecdote, I don't think it really negates your point at all. I was just surprised how much a difference new windows made on a seemingly ok house.

    I can only dream of having a nice clean crawl space like that...

    1 reply

    Mine was disgusting and i regret not taking any before pictures. There was cat feces, old plumbing (the house had switched from a well to municipal water and a septic system to the city sewer), rocks, wood, and all kinds of trash. I spent a good 10 hours just clearing out the detritus. The friends i had helping me joked that it was so nice - i was adding an apartment.

    Energy audits and the like don't do that much if you have an older home. Yes, "there are programs" for insulation and such, but they generally require a homeowner to put up half the cost, and you have to clean up all old wiring and who know what all first. Bottom line, you'll be significantly out of pocket and will only get a fraction back. It's nice if you got the money, but...

    1 reply

    I think it is important to consider not just the cost of the improvements but also the return on the investment. A good audit will determine what the most cost effective improvements are. Insulation in my crawl space should pay for itself in two years. But in my case, the state is paying for it so that's two years that the heating cost will stay in my pocket! When i installed on-demand electric water heaters the cost was a little more than twice the cost of a new tanked heater. But when i started to do the math and determine the longevity of the tankless heater (estimated to last twice as long as a tanked heater) then every dollar saved on the electric bill is a dollar in my pocket. When i bought them i didn't know about the tax rebates available so that was just icing on the cake. Doing what's best for you in the long term financially is what is probably most important.