Sunday, March 29, 2009

Residential Energy Efficiency

One of my tasks at work has been to publish a number of energy efficiency tips to inspire my coworkers to practice conservation at home. My job is based in San Marcos and one of the first things I did was look up home rebate information for various utilities in the area. I knew Austin Energy was progressive and generous with their rebates, but I was shocked to discover that no other neighboring utilities had comparable rebate programs. 

Through Austin Energy/Austin Water home-owners in Austin can qualify for a slew of rebates, including the following:
- Home Performance with Energy Star Rebate - rebates up to $1575 (includes air conditioner/heat pump, duct repair and sealing, additional attic insulations, solar screens/window film/low-E glass, caulking and weather stripping, and attic radiant barrier)
- Air Conditioner/Heat Pump - up to $1250 per system
- Solar Water Heaters - up to $2000 per system, existing construction 
- One Kilowatt Solar PV System - up to $3750 per system
- High Efficiency Clothes Washer - up to $150 rebate
- High-Efficiency Toilet Program - free toilets or rebates up to $200 on approved toilets
- Pressure Regulating Valve (PRV) - up to $100 toward the purchase and installation of a PRV
- Rainbarrel - up to $30 rebate on rainbarrels
- Rainwater Harvesting - up to $500 on the cost of installing a larger capacity rainwater harvesting system (over 300 gallons)
- Free Programmable Thermostats - Free programmable thermostat and installation; in exchange for the installation, you're allowing Austin Energy to cycle off power on summer days between 3 and 7 pm when electricity demand is at its peak

Austin Energy customers may also receive a free home energy audit from a number of selected companies. After performing the audit, the company will make recommendations for improvement and provide cost and rebate estimates.  

Residents with low/moderate incomes may also qualify for free home performance improvements, like attic insulation, minor duct repair and sealing, caulking around plumbing penetrations, solar screens, and weather stripping around doors.

We have recently taken advantage of a number of these rebates - the high efficiency toilet, the high efficiency washing machine, the free energy audit, and as a follow-up to the audit, weatherization/duct efficiency testing and sealing. In a couple of hours today, a crew of workers was sent to our home and they performed blower and duct efficiency testing, duct sealing, caulking around plumbing penetrations, caulking around windows, weather stripping around doors, gaskets behind electrical outlets, and installing insulation board behind a hot water heater. Rebates will cover about 1/3 of the bill, and we were told to expect a savings of between 10 and 40% on our monthly utility bill. 

Other recommendations that were suggested as a result of the audit were installing additional insulation, installing a radiant barrier under our metal roof, and wrapping our hot water heater. 

If you can't take advantage of Austin Energy's rebates, there are a number of home efficiency improvements you can try out on your own. For instance:

(1) Add foam gaskets behind electrical outlets and light switches
(2) Insert outlet caps into unused outlets
(3) Caulk around windows and where plumbing, ducting, and electrical wiring penetrates walls
(4) Add weatherstripping to doors
(5) Kitchen exhaust fan covers can keep air from coming in when the fan's not being used
(6) Insulate your hot water heater tank, being careful not to cover the thermostat
(7) Lower the themostat on your hot water heater to 120F
(8) Add films on south-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain during the day
(9) Install white window coverings on south- and west- facing windows  and make sure to close curtains during the day
(10) Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs where possible, since they use less energy and produce less heat

You can read up on some of Austin Energy's rebates here:

You can read up on City of Austin's water-related rebates here:

The DOE has a number of energy efficiency tips here:

Good luck!

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