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Programs Can Increase Homes' Energy Efficiency

By Shawn Lindabury and Dominic Frongillo

There is a new program that can help you get thousands of dollars in home energy improvements, reduce indoor air pollution, and increase comfort at no net-cost to you. Many people think they cannot afford the upfront investment needed for adding insulation, air sealing, and upgrading heating systems and appliances. Now there are financial incentive programs- subsidies, tax credits, and loans- that make those home energy upgrades affordable. Here’s how to access that money:

First, get a home energy assessment. In order to qualify for many incentives, you must hire an energy efficiency contractor accredited by the Building Performance Institute (BPI). The contractor will evaluate your home’s air leakage, insulation, heating systems, household appliances, and lighting.  Air leaking from the house is measured using a blower door test, which uses a large fan affixed to an exterior doorway to show air infiltration.

Most people can now get a free or reduced energy assessment through the new Green Jobs Green NY program of NYSERDA.  You may qualify for a free assessment if your household income is less than $142,200 (200 percent of the median income in Tompkins County).  Households above this income level may be eligible for a reduced-cost assessment.  Sign up by filling out a short application and sending it with last year’s utility bill information to NYSERDA. You will receive a reservation number that you can take to a local BPI contractor for a free/reduced cost assessment.  For a link to the Green Jobs Green NY application and a list of local BPI contractors go to www.ccetompkins.org/gny.

 After your energy assessment, the contractor will recommend improvements and provide their costs, energy savings, and payback period.  Next, work with the contractor to choose upgrades and apply for incentives.  Incentives depend on your household income.

Some customers may qualify for free energy efficiency upgrades work through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), administered locally through Tompkins Community Action.  The next tier of incentives is NYSERDA’s Assisted Home Performance program that pays 50 percent of the cost of upgrades. After taking advantage of these subsidy programs, the remaining cost can be financed through Green Jobs Green NY low-interest loans, where you can finance up to $13,000 in improvements at a rate as low as 3.49 percent.  To sweeten the deal, federal tax credits may be available.  To see which incentive programs you may qualify for, visit www.ccetompkins.org/energyfinancing or call 272-2292.

By combining these programs, you may be able to make home energy upgrades at no net-cost to you!  For example, if your home energy assessment identifies $10,000 worth of recommended improvements to your home, and you qualify for the Assisted Home Performance program that covers 50 percent of the cost, your portion is only $5,000.  By financing your portion with a low-interest loan from Green Jobs Green Jobs NY, the monthly cost is only $49.42  If you save $50 per month on energy bills after making efficiency upgrades, you would save more money each month than you are paying for your loan.  That’s $10,000 of home energy upgrades with improved comfort and efficiency - at no net-cost to you!

 Lindabury and Frongillo are on the staff of Tompkins County Cooperative Extension and members of Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative. 

Ithaca Journal 1-4-11