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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sonoma County Energy Upgrade Program

Energy Upgrade Support
One-stop shop energy program 
helps homeowners improve efficiency

By Lori Houston
The new Energy Upgrade California™ program is helping homeowners turn problems such as faulty water heaters and overly stuffy or chilly rooms into opportunities to reduce their energy costs, live more comfortably, and even get money back on their improvements.

Two Santa Rosa physicians who decided to remodel their 1972 home earlier this year had suspicions that something might be amiss with their 30-year old furnace. They asked their remodeling contractor to take a look at the furnace, which had a habit of making strange sounds.

“When I checked it, we witnessed what is known as ‘flame rollout,’ which is just as bad as it sounds,” says Mike Winter of M. Winter &  Associates. Flames literally erupted from the front of the furnace, indicating a possible crack in the unit’s heat exchanger – a problem that not only affected the furnace’s performance but also represented a significant safety hazard.

“Many homeowners don’t see or think about their furnace so they pink about their furnace so they probably don’t know what kind of shape it’s in,” Winter said. “The newer generation of furnaces are so much more energy efficient. And age definitely affects a furnace’s performance. If it’s more than 20 years old, it should probably be looked at.”

Because the homeowners had also mentioned using space heaters in the bedrooms during colder months due to draftiness, Winter figured the home’s duct system probably wasn’t working correctly either. He told the owners about Energy Upgrade California in Sonoma County, a new program that provides up to $4,000 in incentives for energy upgrade projects that are based on a “whole house” approach.

As a certified Energy Upgrade contractor, Winter performed an energy performance analysis on the 2,220 square-foot home and suggested other improvements, in addition to fixing the furnace problem, that would make the house more comfortable and efficient year round. These improvements included sealing air leaks in the attic to stop heated air from escaping, adding insulation in the attic and crawl space to stabilize indoor temperatures, and replacing old duct work to distribute airflow more evenly throughout the home.

Not only did the homeowners get a cozier house and $4,000 back on their upgrade investment, but they will continue to save money because of as much as a 52-percent reduction in their home’s energy demand, based on Energy Upgrade California modeling software.

“It was rewarding for me as a long-time remodeling contractor to put together a holistic package,” says Winter. “I knew it would dramatically improve the home.”

Energy Upgrade California in Sonoma County is part of a statewide program to encourage exactly this kind of “whole house” approach to home improvements by providing property owners with incentives for projects to increase home energy efficiency. The countywide program brings all the locally available energy incentives and resources together into a “one stop shop” package for property owners.

The local program is administered through a partnership between the Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) and the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP), the popular tax assessment financing program, in collaboration with other local partners.

The Energy Upgrade California incentive program offers two options:
A basic package of key efficiency improvements that yield an average 10-percent energy savings and $1,000 in incentives;

An advanced package that includes an initial whole house energy analysis to determine how the home is wasting energy, identifies specific improvements to stop the energy waste, and estimates potential reduction in energy use as a result of the upgrades to achieve even greater energy savings, with incentives up to $4,000.

Participating contractors work with homeowners to develop a plan that will achieve anywhere from 10-40 percent or more reduction in energy use, depending on their available budget and financing.

“Increasing your home’s efficiency isn’t just switching out light bulbs or buying new appliances. It’s approaching your home as a complete system because the building shell, heating, air-conditioning, water, and other systems can work together to more effectively lower your bills,” explains Chris Cone, Energy Efficiency Implementation Manager for the Climate Protection

Campaign, which is a member of the local Energy Upgrade implementation team.
To date, about two dozen property owners in Sonoma County already have either made improvements to their homes through the local Energy Upgrade program or have projects in the pipeline. Local projects have yielded an average of 34 percent in energy savings and $3,000 in rebates.

On average, project costs start around $5,000 for “basic package” efficiency improvements to achieve at least 10-percent energy savings and range up to $25,000+ for “advanced package” deeper efficiency retrofits that achieve as much as 40-percent energy savings. Adding a renewable energy system such as solar increases the overall cost but also offers additional rebates and incentives.

Ultimately the cost of energy upgrades depends on the size and age of the home and the goals of the homeowner.

Daniel Smith of Zero Energy Associates (ZEA) in Sebastopol, also a certified Energy Upgrade California contractor, recently completed a major upgrade of an older home on Graton Road triggered by a cranky water heater and a bad case of allergies.

“Their water heater and heating system were both ancient and needed to be replaced,” Smith says. “The homeowners were pretty motivated because they knew they were going to have to spend some money soon.”

ZEA conducted a whole house analysis, revealing some challenges and complexities.
“Typical of West Sonoma County, this house had several additions that were made over many years,” Smith says. “As an overall system, the home was ‘broken.’ The various sections were completely disconnected in terms of energy use.”

Before installing any new heating or water systems, Smith’s company spent time modeling different combinations of upgrades measures. In the end, ZEA conducted an extensive upgrade that included installing a high performance duct system and heat pump, a high efficiency heating and cooling system, and a high efficiency water heating system, as well as air sealing and insulating the attic and encapsulating the crawl space under the house to provide a moisture barrier.

Adding the 2.7-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that the owners wanted yielded a rebate that covered 41 percent of the upgrade cost.

Homeowner Heather Concoff couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

“This is such a jewel of a program,” Concoff says. “The house is so much more comfortable now, this is huge life saver for us. We started saving immediately on our utility bills because we’re producing energy but also saving so much energy.”

Concoff and her husband will pay $350 per month over the next 20 years for the upgrades – less than they were previously spending on their monthly electricity and propane costs – with financing through the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP).

We would never have been able to afford to do this,” Concoff says, noting that home equity financing was not an option due to tighter credit requirements now. “I’d much rather pay for internal improvements than keep paying utility bills. It’s like the difference between renting and owning. If people knew how easy this is and how this it will pay for itself, they would absolutely do this.”

Energy Upgrade California 
in Sonoma County
More information:
Enter “Sonoma” when prompted for county

Basic Upgrade Retrofits (10% energy savings, up to $1,000 in incentives):
• Air sealing
• Attic insulation
• Duct sealing
• Hot-water pipe insulation
• Low-flow showerhead with thermostatic control
• Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
• Combustion safety testing

Advance Upgrade Retrofits
(15-40% energy savings, $1,500-4,000 in incentives):
• High efficiency furnaces
• Energy efficient cooling systems
• Energy efficient water heaters
• Wall insulation
• Energy efficient pool pumps
• Dual pane energy efficient windows
• Cool roofs
• Whole house fans
• Energy-efficient hardwired interior and exterior lighting fixtures
• Other permanent energy efficiency improvements

Local Partners:
• Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP)
• Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA)
• Working in coordination locally with the following organizations:
• PG&E
• Clean Energy Advocates – City of Santa Rosa
• Climate Protection Campaign
• Solar Sonoma County
• Sonoma County Energy Watch

Participating Local Contractors
who are specifically trained for Energy Upgrade California and meet required qualifications:
• EPIC Design Build
• Duna Construction
• Zero Energy Associates
• Advanced Home Performance
• Applied Building Science
• John Craig Construction, Inc.
• Rising Design & Construction
• Avalon Builders, Inc.
• M. Winter and Associates
• Kilcor Builders & Design, Inc.
• Apperson Energy Management
• Harney Home Performance
• Plus several more pending certification

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