August 13, 2015

The Bottom Line has been feeling like an energy star lately after improving the efficiency of his home by a scientifically measured 20 percent with weather stripping, spray-insulation foam and caulking, then reducing everyday costs by installing three new low-flow shower heads, four LED bulbs and up to 21 compact fluorescents.

It took four hours, all work performed by professionals. The cost, labor and materials: $99. That’s probably less than the professional installation of a toilet flap. These changes should save me close to $400 in the next year.

Now it’s your turn. The same deal is available to all residential customers, including renters, of Eversource, United Illuminating, Connecticut Natural and Southern Connecticut Gas as part of Energize CT’s Home Energy Solutions Program. Homes that heat with oil are also eligible. The program waives the fee for households with income below the state’s median. (Example: under $52,524 for a family of three.)

So far this year, 21,000 customers have used the program — about half of the 2014 total — as the utilities try to reach a state-mandated weatherization requirement of 80 percent of Connecticut homes by 2030. (Eversource alone has slightly less than 1 million residential electric customers in the state.) The price of the energy assessment is so low because every residential customer subsidizes the program. Look closer at your next bill: the Combined Public Benefits Charge, a mandatory contribution, subsidizes Energize Connecticut and other programs.

The $99 energy assessment almost guarantees your house, like TBL’s, will become at least 20 percent more energy efficient.
“The 20 percent range is pretty typical,” says Enoch Lenge, Eversource’s energy efficiency expert. “On a typical old New England home, a very leaky home, you might get more. You could get 30 or 35 percent. Anywhere from 20 percent to 30 is the average.”

The technicians’ primary tool, the blower-door test, uses a high-power fan placed in an exterior doorway that draws air from the house, reducing the air pressure. Outside air, higher pressure, then flows through unsealed cracks. The Bottom Line could feel the air rushing below a basement door and behind the doorway trim.

“Walking around with the professionals gives a good idea of where the air leaks and inefficiencies are occurring,” says Lenge. “It’s a very clear picture of where air leaks are occurring at a slower rate.”

After the initial blower-door test, the technicians seal the obvious leaks. At TBL’s home, the technicians spent about two hours sealing basement rim joists with foam insulation, adding weather stripping to the basement door and sealing a major leak in an upstairs closet with exposure to the center chimney. The technicians also seal ductwork leaks and install low-flow showerheads, as needed, and install energy-efficient bulbs throughout the house. (If you need more than the program’s 25-bulb limit, look for reduced-rate lighting with the Energize CT label at local retailers.)

TBL, concerned about a house with oil heat on one floor and electric on another, also requested a specialist who could examine the heating system. The contractor said switching to another heat source, such as propane, would not pay off but recommended replacing an aging boiler. He also provided an estimate to insulate a section of the basement with wither insulation or fiberglass insulation. TBL will go DIY on that project.

Technicians also insulate up to six feet of exposed hot-water pipes with flex foam tubing, but homeowners should finish the job.

“Insulation is a great measure,” says Lenge, “whether you’re doing it yourself or bringing in a professional. It doesn’t have huge capital cost and the payback is pretty quick in the savings you see.”

Rebates can make a job even less expensive:
>> Up to $750 on a natural gas boiler.
>> Up to $600 on a natural-gas warm-air furnace.
>> Up to $500 on an air-source heat pump.
>> $1,000, for customers who use electric heat, on a ductless heating and cooling system such as the in-wall Mitsubishi units.
>> Up to $400 on an eligible water heater.
>> $50 per Energy Star replacement window.
>> $1 per square foot of wall and ceiling insulation (50 cents per square foot for basement and garage ceilings) installed professionally or 20 cents per square foot of self-installed insulation, any type.
>> $50 on eligible washing machines and refrigerators, $25 on freezers and dehumidifiers.

For bigger jobs, the program also offers 0 percent loans for three years, with option to pay incrementally through the homeowner’s electric bill.

When the technicians finish an assessment, which usually takes two to four hours, the homeowner receives a Home Energy Score. (Connecticut was the first state to adopt this Department of Energy tool.) TBL’s home, on a scale of 1 to 10, qualified as a 6 after the treatments. The score, part of a six-page report, unfortunately did not include a pre-treatment rating. Use the before-after results of the blower-door test as an indicator.

Recommended improvements, including the rebate-eligible basement insulation, would increase the score to 9 and save an estimated $585 annually. To make those numbers yours, get with the program.

For more information on the Home Energy Solutions program, call 1-877-947-3873 or click here.

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to include the correct number of Eversource’s residential customers in Connecticut.