Normally about this time I would be on my way to work. However, because of the fourth snowstorm we have been hit with in the past three weeks they have cancelled again. I don’t blame them, but it does make figuring out the rest of the semester interesting.
Anyway, sorry about the digression. So I have discussed how we have been having a bit of a financial storm here in the ROB household. February, it seems to me, is always one of the worst financial times of the year because of tax time, our car insurance is due, and then on top of some of the inevitable medical bills that we are now starting to get it is going to be an expensive month.
Last week, we also spent about $3000 adding insulation to our home. The previous homeowners didn’t have any insulation in the walls and limited amounts in the rafters in our attic. Now at first glance you might be like $3000 are you crazy? On top of everything else? Why would you do that?
Getting the insulation placed in our home has been something that we have been planning for a couple of months and it is actually going to save money in the long-term. We actually realized we needed to spend make this kind of investment in our home because of an energy audit we received from our local energy company. I am here to tell all homeowners: get an energy audit.
Typically It’s Free
The question I ask some of my friends who haven’t done it is why not? In our situation our energy audit was free. We set up an appointment with a local engineering firm to come out and test the air leakage in our home, look at insulation levels, gauge our energy usage, weatherization etc. From the larger investigation I have done it seems that most states, if not all, participate in some kind of energy savings plan where utilities will do an audit of your home for free. If you don’t have that in your state, the Department of Energy actually has a program that can do an energy audit for you that is also free, depending on certain qualifications. Typically, the audit only takes about 30 minutes to an hour. You get great information about your home and did I mention it’s typically FREE!
You Get Free Stuff
Now I am not sure about this for everyone, but when we had our home energy audit we actually received a number of free items. The guys who tested our home did the standard tests for weatherization, air leakage, etc, but they also went around our home replaced a bunch of light bulbs with the efficient compact fluorescent ones (I actually have about a dozen or so in our utility closet, but they replaced them at no charge). Then they gave us a few different power strips that we could use that don’t waste energy.
Some people may not know this, but whenever you have somewhat plugged in it is actually consuming energy. With these power strips it actually shuts off the electrical usage when you turn the product off. We also received those items for free.
Finally, because our house was really very old we had some of the old-time thermostats. You know the ones that are gold in color and you can turn them to adjust the heat and/or cool air. Because we did the energy audit they replaced our thermostats with programmable ones for less than $5 a piece. Now it wasn’t free, but we received three different thermostats that would normally cost tens, if not hundreds of dollars, for practically nothing.
When the energy auditors finished with their audit they did sit down with us and offer us a number of different programs to further weatherize our home. Now here is where the tricky part is. This might not happen for all energy audits, but more than likely at the end they will sit down with you tell you where your deficiencies are and potentially offer you a contract to do further work.
At first glance you might be thinking AH HA! There is the rub. Jason, you are nothing but a shill for the energy companies and you are going to get me to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars that I don’t need too. Well, I fully admit I have made some stupid mistakes with money and was a bit leary about these initial options that I was given.
I was given three different contract options, all of which provided incentives to weatherize my home. Now you might argue that these incentives weren’t really incentives at all and just there to make it appear as if I was getting a good deal. Anticipating that I actually made some calls to some contractors regarding insulation installation and all of them (I checked out four) quoted me double what I would have paid if I hadn’t done the energy audit.
Besides, I know that i needed to add more insulation and weatherize our home better. It actually was something our home inspector said that should be done as soon as you can. So to me it seemed like a no-brainer. I was getting incentives to weatherize my home at half the cost of a normal estimate. I needed to get the work done anyway. And I was going to save money in the long-run. So I said sign me up (I chose the middle of the three contracts by the way).
What If I Can’t Afford the Improvements?
One question that might arise is you read all of this and you might be like: I love the idea, but I can’t afford a couple thousand dollars of weatherization for my home or even a couple of hundred dollars so what should I do? I would encourage anyone facing this situation to ask your energy company about specific programs they might have.
Just for my own edification I checked out at least one energy company in places that I have lived (Minnesota, North Dakota, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island). All of them offered some kind of financing program to help you make these investments. In Rhode Island, we have something called the HEAT Loan program, which allows homeowners to borrow at 0% the cost of weatherizing their home and they have seven years to pay off the loan. Now I am not doing the HEAT loan program because I don’t like more debt and I wanted to pay it off. But that doesn’t mean that other people can’t investigate similar options. There are affordable ways to afford home improvements.
Heck, some of you might even decide to do this yourself by weatherizing your home. Some of the work I fully admit I could’ve done myself. But because we had NO insulation in the walls at all and I didn’t know what I was doing with blowing insulation into walls I decided to let actual professions handle this.
Whatever decision you make, if you are a homeowner, an energy audit just seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s typically free, you get free energy saving stuff and tips for your home, and incentives to save energy in the long-run. I am not saying that some of this might not result in costing you a few hundred, maybe a couple of thousands of dollars. But in the long-run it was well worth if for us. We needed the work done and they did a great job.
So what are you waiting for?