Show Me the Money: Upgrades through Local Utilities

becoming energy efficientDuring the 20th century American consumption was fueled by ‘cheap oil’ and the belief that gross domestic product was directly powered by increased energy use. Economists and utility managers alike predicted that as the economy grew, energy use would as well. Fortunately, our economy did not meet these projections, which would have required astronomical numbers of power plants if they had.*

However, the costs of a fossil fuel dependent economy continue to escalate  as Middle East unrest and speculation push the cost of oil ever higher. This is not good news, but as buildings consume 39% of all the energy used in America, it is particularly bad news for the residential housing sector.

Commercial and industrial properties have been slowly making the conversion to more sustainable management, but residential property has been relegated to 3rd class status. This has allowed developers to continue to build poor-efficiency homes and supporting structures which aggravate an already serious problem.

Fortunately there is help available to retrofit these inefficient buildings.  Most American cities and towns have leadership that recognizes the intrinsic and economic value of improving our building stock and they want to help.

More efficient, tighter building envelopes are the collective future, as 97% of our existing buildings are drafty, poorly insulated and energy-inefficient.

However, as we move toward legally required improvements, local governments and utility providers are offering a last bit of help. In spite of our economic challenges, grants, incentives, tax rebates and other perks are widely available.

DSIRE is a national site (searchable by state) that connects owners with these opportunities, and most local utilities have some type of rebate or incentive program to offer as well. Beyond providing direct financial support, local utility companies are a great starting point for any investigation targeting these types of resources.

Urban officials and the utility sector also recognize the power apartment, dormitory and condominium property managers hold. Given the right tools, these property stewards have the ability to create highly sustainable operations. Not only does this improve the quality of life for staff and residents, but it can save the property owners’ money as well.

For those who  are unfamiliar with more sustainable practices, education, financial assistance and systems guidance are widely available. Even in the most dire economic times there are pools of grant money that never get distributed. These funds are effectively ‘free’, but applicants may need some technical assistance and a solid process to acquire them.

Applicants  can harm a grant or rebate request if they miss timelines, do not provide requested documentation or fail to follow the ‘rules’ and become disqualified.

If your public utility or planning department had nothing to offer a year ago, don’t assume that’s still the case. One example of a brand new offering is New York City’s GreenHouse program (GH), a program which was developed specifically to assist multifamily operators.

The broader educational purpose is to guide property managers by identifying resources, cost savings and practices that make sustainable management more profitable but there is also rebate money available.

The incentive amounts are large enough when combined with state and federal tax incentives and manufacturer’s rebates to be meaningful.

Finding these types of programs in your own region does require some initiative. What kind of money is available?

A great example is the GreenHouse program which provides links to organizations like National Grid (NG).  NG provides natural gas to 6 million customers in New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Any of their customers can apply for a rebate.

NG’s rebates are available for services like the air sealing of a residence by a certified professional or installation of fiberglass electrical conduit. As an example, the cost of this would be about $600 for the average home in New York, but National Grid arranges the service for its customers for a $50 participation fee. National Grid will also pay up to 20% of the cost of insulating a roof or attic to a rebate maximum of $3,000.

As EnergyStar estimates the average home can reduce energy costs by 20% merely by air sealing and adding insulation, in the short term and over the life of the residence the payback is pretty substantial. (Don’t forget the added comfort of living in an air-sealed and well-insulated home or apartment too!)

Although the following rebates are available only to National Grid customers, a quick phone call to your local utility may find similar offers.