If your objective is to reduce your use and waste of energy in the operation of your home – and to reduce the costs associated with it … you will have a better chance of success when you avoid being led by “rebates” and other incentives provided by government agencies and utility companies.
How can passing on the cheap or “free” audit … or ignoring the rebate for the water heater or furnace … save you money? Read on, and be surprised.
Economic Stimulus versus Reducing Energy Use and Costs
First, let me introduce you to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
This is an act passed by the U. S. Congress and signed into law by the President that set aside billions of dollars to be spent for the purpose of putting more money into the economy and creating jobs.
Money sent to the states, utility companies and other private entities under this Act of Congress has that … stimulating the economy and creating jobs … as its only purpose.
Some of the money under this act was provided to a particular government contractor for the purpose of creating energy efficiency computer calculators designed for the use of home owners (such as yourself) and energy professionals (such as me) to use to calculate present levels of energy use and to recommend improvements.
In almost every case, these calculators will produce a report that will recommend that home owners spend additional money, such as to exchange presently owned appliances for newer “EnergyStar” rated models, which puts hundreds of their dollars into the economy and creates jobs to produce and ship these new appliances and materials.
These models do not require an actual measurement of air leakage … representing the amount of heated and cooled air in the home that is being wasted to the outdoors … which can reduce the heating and cooling costs by up to 40% with the use of inexpensive caulk or foam.
Instead, the calculators and their reports will simply refer to an undefined act of “plugging air leaks” and provide a default savings projection which, in the absence of a diagnostic check by a qualified energy official, could actually create dangerous or unhealthy conditions (refer to link under “air leakage” in the preceding paragraph).
These calculators produce reports that will also suggest spending additional money to add insulation which, in the presence of air leaks that have not been addressed first, will not only reduce the effectiveness of the added insulation but will also result in the probable need to spend even more money when the air leakage is eventually addressed and the new insulation is damaged in the process.
The Home Energy Score
Soon, you will be hearing of a new U.S. Department of Energy program called the “Home Energy Score“.
This program will appear to be an inexpensive energy survey where home owners will pay someone up to $100 to come into their home and collect information for a computer model — designed by that government contractor who was paid with money from the same American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — to simply give the house a “score” (from 1 to 10) and a brief report to tell the owner what to spend money on in order to increase his “score”.
If your home’s “score” is more important to you than its level of comfort, indoor air quality and energy efficiency it might be worth the $100 to know what that score is, but the advice that comes with the score - directing you how to stimulate the economy and create more jobs by telling you what to buy - is already available to you for free through on-line sources.
Utility Company Rebates
Utility companies are also playing their part by paying rebates for various purchases that their customers are encouraged to make.
Chances are, your electric company is offering you a rebate to replace your gas water heater with something that uses their electricity while – at the same time - your gas company could be providing a similar rebate to throw away the electric water heater and replace it with one that runs on their gas. Does this save you energy … or does it simply encourage you to spend more of your money to stimulate the economy and create more jobs?
Does your utility company provide you any significant rebates for sealing up the air leaks that keep your heated air in the house longer or do they, as many do, place their emphasis and largest rebates toward the purchase of bigger and “more efficient” furnaces and air conditioners?
How many times are customers actually choosing the less efficient system by incorrectly assuming that the rebate is directing them to the smarter choice?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in an article last year, considered a utility company asking its customers to use less energy as being similar to the Anhueser-Busch Brewery asking its customers to drink less beer.
And, in consideration of all of the recent increases in their rates for their customers, let’s not even ask where those rebate dollars actually come from.
Let’s ask this, instead … If the gas and oil service providers stopped using rebates to encourage people to get rid of their electrical equipment – and the electric service providers stopped using rebates to encourage people to get rid of their gas and oil using equipment – might they both require less of a fee increase next year?
The bottom line is this: Upgrading your older model appliance with the recommendations of your certified energy auditor is going to save you much more money than the rebate, anyway. After first making the educated choice … if your choice should still qualify you for the rebate anyway, that’s icing on the cake. Not the cake.
The Solution = Independent and Unbiased Advice
Saving energy and reducing the associated costs is not always about spending more money, although some expenditures are sometimes necessary. While it is wise and prudent to replace broken and improperly functioning mechanical equipment with newer and more efficient models, energy efficiency can be improved through a variety of steps that do not require major purchases, initially.
Seek the assistance of an independent home energy professional for a complete, accurate and unbiased description of your home’s performance and recommendations for improvements. Seek, first, the steps that are best in achieving your energy efficiency goals and then … after selecting the right materials and establishing a scope of work … see what rebates or incentives might be there to assist you.
Remember, it is not the “rebate” or discount that you are seeking … it is the results that will produce a more comfortable, healthier and energy efficient home to live in with the greatest return on any financial investments that you make toward that end. Take the money that you stop wasting on unnecessary energy loss … and stimulate the economy by spending it on something you enjoy.