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For county homeowners, rebates make energy upgrades a good deal

on January 11, 2012

For Alameda County residents who own their homes, now is a particularly good time to invest in home energy upgrades, thanks to a number of federal and regional rebates offered by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and spearheaded by a statewide program called Energy Upgrade California.

Despite this year’s unusually warm and dry January, winter in the Bay Area is often cold and wet, and that means higher heating bills. “Many Oakland homeowners are thinking about heating bills again, and how drafty their homes are,” said the City of Oakland’s sustainability coordinator Garrett Fitzgerald. “This is a great time to go ahead and make those improvements that will make their homes more comfortable and more affordable.”

Both the city government and StopWaste.Org — the public agency that encompasses Alameda County’s Waste Management Authority Source Reduction and Recycling Board — have been working to get the word out about the rebates to Oakland residents. The program has only been around for about a year, said Judi Ettlinger, a senior program manager with StopWaste.Org.

“It’s take a while for people to understand and to hear about the program,” Ettlinger said.  “But it’s building momentum.” Oakland has the third highest number of homeowners participating in upgrades in the entire Bay Area, she said.

Two kinds of upgrade plans, one basic and one advanced, are available to homeowners.

In the basic package, Energy Upgrade California prescribes seven improvements homeowners can make to houses that don’t already have certain energy-saving features. These upgrades include attic air sealing and insulation, duct sealing, pipe wraps for domestic hot water, installing a low-flow showerhead, CO and smoke alarms, and completing a combustion safety test. If you make all seven upgrades, your contractor submits the necessary validating paperwork to Energy Upgrade California, and about four weeks later a rebate check of up to $1,000 arrives at your house.

Commercial apartment building owners are also eligible for the rebates, and while there is no requirement that they pass the rebate on to their renters in the form of lower rent, tenants might still benefit from the lower utility bills.

Fitzgerald said that so far this year not many people have chosen this option, mainly because their homes already have one of two of the improvements, disqualifying them from the basic package.  Instead, most people are participating in the more customized advanced package.   This requires hiring a participating contractor to do a home energy assessment — that cost varies, but averages $200-$400 — to evaluate your energy use and identify the best upgrade options for the house’s size, orientation, window surface and airflow.

Then after the work is done, the same contractor makes another energy assessment and compares your home energy use to the pre-improvement evaluation.  The amount of energy you’re saving determines the amount of the rebate, which varies on a sliding scale. This amount, your home energy use, is different from your utility bill; it’s a measure of how efficient your house is. You need to reduce your home energy use by at least 15% to qualify for the rebate, which at that level of energy savings equates to a $1,500 rebate. The maximum amount you can qualify for is $4,000, if you achieve a 40% energy savings (see graphic).

These PG&E-sponsored rebates are expected to run for the entirety of 2012. Extra rebates of up to $2,000, funded through federal stimulus dollars authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are available through February of 2012. This means that projects have to be completed by February.

The availability of the federal rebate means homeowners who complete a basic upgrade qualify for an additional $1,000, on top of the $1,000 PG&E rebate. Those who complete an advanced upgrade package qualify for $2,000 in federal rebates. On top of that, Bay Area homeowners can also receive $300 toward the initial contractor’s energy assessment—even if they decide not to go ahead with the upgrades.

In order to set up the initial assessment, you call a participating contractor and schedule an appointment. A list of participating contractors who have gone through special training in home energy efficiency assessments and upgrades can be found in the contractor directories at Energy Upgrade California’s website. You must use a participating contractor to qualify for the rebate programs.

Fitzgerald said that because the program is so new, the City of Oakland doesn’t have a solid count on how many people have received rebates this year just in Oakland.  But in Alameda County, he said, The average participating home saves nearly a third in energy costs.

“We’ve seen Oakland homeowners who have participated in this program realize cost savings from day one,” Fitzgerald said. “This is phenomenal, and very much in line with the energy and climate goals that we as a city have set out across Oakland’s housing stocks.”

In addition to making your home more comfortable and reducing utility bill costs, energy upgrades are good news for the environment, Ettlinger said.

“Many people are aware of the dire situation we’re in with greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “Existing buildings play a key role in being able to reduce these emissions by being energy efficient.”

To learn more about getting up to $4,000 in home energy efficiency upgrade rebates, attend the Oakland-Piedmont Home Energy Forum on Tuesday, January 31, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Rockridge Library. RSVP here.

For more information on the home energy upgrade rebate programs you can also visit Energy Upgrade California.


  1. John C. Osborn on January 11, 2012 at 5:08 pm


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