Why not reap the benefits of a home energy retrofit project?
Jerry Klasik called me recently because her house was uncomfortable with the onset of cold weather and she wanted the comfort of an energy-efficient home. She is planning for a whole-house energy retrofit and wanted the latest information to get started. Jerry is on the board of the local League of Women Voters She was curious about the Energy Champions program, and how the League could benefit from this program that awards non-profit organizations $500 for each homeowner who has completed a whole-house retrofit and who attributes having done so to them. The league, or any non-profit organization, can apply to be an Energy Champion and benefit from the program but this requires participating in a training session and other steps. As an alternative, Sustainable Claremont, which is an Energy Champion, will split the award 50:50 with the designated non-profit if the homeowner wants to work through Sustainable Claremont. The League has this arrangement, as will be described in more detail in their January newsletter.
Sustainable Claremont uses its share of the Energy Champions funds to promote home energy retrofits through “CHERP”, the Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Program. (For more information, visit the CHERP web site at Cherp.net, or call Chris Veirs, Claremont’s Sustainability Coordinator, at (909) 399 5466).
Whole-house energy retrofits include improvements in attic and wall insulation, repairing ductwork, sealing air leaks, and often smaller and improved (hydronic) heating and cooling systems adequate to meet the needs of a more energy efficient home. Retrofitted homes are more comfortable, quieter, and healthier, and have lowered energy bills. Many homes in Claremont that have had retrofits have a “This House is CHERPing” sign on display.
It’s also possible to use local sunlight as an alternate energy source, as with rooftop solar water heaters, or photoelectric panels to generate electricity. That way it is often possible for a home to become “energy neutral”, or even to generate excess power that can be sold to the utility or used to charge an electric vehicle (of course, it makes the best economic sense to reduce energy usage first). More than 100 Claremont homes have solar electric installations, usually with a capacity of 1-4 KW. They can be highly cost-effective. One local rental property owner has had six residential solar units installed and operating since 2006. They were originally calculated to pay themselves off in 7 years. From monthly meter readings taken since then, a further year seems likely. Heat as well as sun determine the production, Edison’s rates and charges have gone up, and one unit was damaged enough to reduce production. Considerable savings were, however, immediate. The six units have produced a total of nearly one hundred fifty thousand KWH of electricity since their 2006 installation, and so have avoided the production of more than one quarter million pounds of greenhouse gas produced by non-solar electricity production methods. The Church of the Brethern in LaVerne found it made both economic and environmental sense to generate their own electric power so they recently installed rooftop solar panels that generate about 48 KW.
In the United States, buildings are responsible for about half of both the energy used and carbon dioxide emissions — about as much as for industry and transportation combined. Carbon dioxide is the principal cause of global warming, Decreasing US dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, is vitally important for both economic and environmental reasons. The only practical way to reduce the ever-more-evident problems caused by global warming is to reduce our carbon footprint, and energy retrofits are a very effective way to do so. If all the homes in the US were made 20% more energy efficient it would be as effective as taking half the cars off the roads. The U. S. Department of Energy, the State of California, and Los Angeles County are all determined to encourage retrofits. Rebates of up to $8,000 are available for homeowners. In addition, Los Angeles County has established the previously mentioned Energy Champions program.
This year Sustainable Claremont awarded Pilgrim Place its Sustainable Neighborhood Award for achievements in energy and water conservation and for home-grown vegetables and fruit production using compost prepared on campus. They have also completed 10 retrofits, and have 15 underway. Now they are working to make the entire 32-acre campus an energy-efficient, solar powered model for the thousands of retirement communities throughout the nation. With over a hundred homes and buildings to work on, contractors will be able to offer reduced construction costs. Rebates, Energy Champions awards, more comfortable living, reduced energy consumption and lower bills — all are powerful incentives. So are the benefits to the environment and the economy. We anticipate their example will be recognized at the national level. They have already helped Claremont exceed all other cities in the region in the number of retrofits.
Rebates are based on the improvements in energy efficiency estimated with mathematical models that are often not as accurate as desired, but these estimates can be compared with actual reductions by examining homeowner’s energy bills. A team of students in the Pomona College Environmental Analysis Program will be looking at such data and determining the accuracy of the models for varied types of houses with a range of different retrofits. Such model validation will benefit the homeowner and the national home energy retrofit program – and what a wonderful real-world educational experience that will be for students in the Environmental Analysis Program.
Homeowner associations could benefit from a project similar to that of Pilgrim Place. Why shouldn’t they too reap the benefits? And many of us, as individual homeowner, could save energy and money too. There will never be a better time than now while rebates and other incentives are still particularly attractive. So why not see if a retrofit is right for you?
Demystifying Sustainability is an initiative of Sustainable Claremont (sustainableclaremont.org).