Updated on 12.11.09

Does Your Energy Company Pay You for Efficiency Upgrades?

Trent Hamm

Earlier this week (just before the large blizzard hit central Iowa), our furnace went out. I took a look and couldn’t diagnose the problem myself, so we called a repairman (ouch). The guy we called was someone who was recommended by a few friends who told us that we’d be surprised how inexpensive his first visit would be.

They weren’t kidding.

The repairman stopped by on Monday morning, took a look at our furnace, and within ten minutes had figured out the problem – it was our thermostat, which had short circuited. He offered to replace it with a programmable one, of which he had several on hand (I’ve mentioned before that programmable thermostats can be a big money saver). Ordinarily, I wouldn’t buy one in this fashion, but he happened to have the exact model that I was considering buying earlier in the year and offered to install it for the same price I was going to buy the thermostat for.

Here’s the kicker: he gave us a form to send to our energy company to get a $30 reimbursement on our next energy bill for the new thermostat.

After that, he offered to clean our ventilation system for $30 – a process that would take about half an hour. Again, I was about to say no, but then he showed me a form for our energy company that, if given a receipt, would give us a $30 credit for having our ventilation system cleaned, making it a wash even if it didn’t help our energy efficiency at all.

And it certainly did. When he started cleaning it, he noticed the air flow was shockingly low. He ran a retrieval tool through our duct work and pulled out a large air filter that had somehow become lodged in our duct work by the previous owner. Once he removed it, finished his cleaning, and turned on the fan, the air flow through the house was tremendous compared to what we were getting before – an obvious improvement over our previous energy efficiency.

After the repairman left, I took a look at the wide variety of rebates and discounts our energy company offers us for doing simple home energy improvements. In fact, it turns out that several things we already did to lower our energy bill could be rewarded with a rebate from the energy company.

It’s basically extra money in my pocket for something I’m already doing.

If you’ve ever thought about improving the energy efficiency of your home in some fashion, whether it’s something simple like putting in new light bulbs or installing a programmable thermostat or something major like putting in new windows, take a look at the incentives offered to you by your energy company. It turns out that many companies offer such incentives to their customers. If you take advantage of those incentives, it swings the cost balance even more in favor of doing a simple energy upgrade, as the up-front cost is now even lower (or, in some cases, zero).

Take a look today. After all, the winter season is one of the best times to improve the energy efficiency of your home, and if your energy company is making it even easier on your pocketbook, now’s the time to make some changes.

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  1. Jules says:

    Makes me wish gas companies offered rebates for people who buy a bike!

    In all seriousness, though, I think that’s awesome.

  2. I love articles like this! They make me happy because there are so many people who are resistent to the thought of “going green” because they think it is just some stupid hippy crap but once they realize that doing things that are energy efficient can save them money, all of the sudden it is sheik and cool. Whatever works I suppose. Some are motivated by saving the earth, others by saving money. At the end of the day, we accomplish the same goal and both reap the same rewards.

  3. d_2 says:

    i just got my entire house insulated (up to r40 blown in insulation in all the exterior walls and roof) and my natural gas company paid 1/3 of the cost because my house failed their energy efficiency test. and, i can get the federal credit for the materials they used.

    i highly recommend calling your gas company and asking about energy efficiency and energy auditing!

  4. Mrs. Money says:

    Wow, that is awesome! I would love to have someone come to my house like this. Thanks for the tip- we have low air flow. I’ll have to look into getting our ducts cleaned!

  5. heather says:

    It seems like this repairman did a lot of good for you that you “almost said no” to – regardless of the rebates offered. I know it’s hard to say yes to a repairman who seems to be upselling you but on the other hand could be giving you the benefit of his experience…

  6. Noel says:

    I wonder if this applies if you are living in rented apartment?

  7. Kevin says:

    @Noel – it likely would apply to the landlord, not tenants.

  8. lurker carl says:

    I’m surprized the low air flow wasn’t discovered during the home inspection when you purchased the property or any of the annual HVAC checkups since then. I’m guessing you never had an annual preventive maintenance on that system while you’ve lived in that house.

    An unbelievable amount of dust and crud is sucked into the ductwork. Keep your ducts clean from now on by putting a filter over each cold air return.

    I have yet to see any studies that show how to effectively program a thermostat in order to acheive realistic energy savings in a typical residental setting. And Trent will never know the actual savings because he had a pre-existing air flow problem resolved along with the thermostat replacement.

  9. Zella says:

    Go to your energy company’s website and search for rebates. We got one on our washer ($100) and are eligible for a free water saving shower head (we have one already, so we’re good there) and CFLs, among other things.

  10. Sheila says:

    We had additional attic insulation blown in the other day and will get a rebate from the power company of 1/3 of the cost. We immediately noticed the difference in warmth. The furnace didn’t go on at all during the night (it’s set at 55 degrees) even though the temperature hit -8. The previous night was the same temperature, and the furnace went on several times during the night.

    Oregon has something called the Energy Trust that does a free energy audit and gets you lots of rebates for insulation, windows, etc. along with state and federal rebates. They do a free inspection after the work is done and worked with the contractors when the auditor noticed a few things that could have been done better. We noticed a huge drop in our heating bill once we completed all the projects. I was bummed when we moved to another state that doesn’t offer the same kind of thing.

  11. Arthi says:

    I have the same question as Noel,
    Will we get the reimbursement even if we are in a rented apartment?

    I have found that there is very less we could do to make our rental apartment more energy efficient.

    The maintenance people in the apartment are very helpful, but they draw the line at some things.

    They would not clean our ventilation system, or repair pretty much anything else as long as it appeared to be working.

    Makes me think I need to take an axe to the appliances that are not very efficient, so that atleast they will replace it when it is broken :-)

  12. Q says:

    I am also surprised with the quickness to say “No” because you think someone is a liar. Didn’t this guy come recommended? Meaning he more than likely isn’t a liar?

    Would you do the same thing for a car? If a recommended mechanic told you that 2 of your 4 tires are approaching needing replacement, and that you will need an alignment too, you’ll say no?

    The same could be extrapolated to doctors, dentists, etc. When do you draw the line on am I getting jipped vs. getting someone who actually cares.

    I think you wrote an article not too long ago about all this, but still, what the heck?

  13. Henry says:

    I know, #12, these articles are getting tired. Trent told us to buy a programmable thermostat on April 7 2009. Nov 3 2008. Nov 2 2008. October 17 2008. Sept 4 2008. Sept. 6 2007. June 24 2007. February 20 2007. Feb 2 2007. Dec 29 2006. December 19 2006. December 4 2006.
    And on and on and on, countless other posts telling us to put in the programmable thermostat.

    Really? All of that advice, on a device that will
    cost only $30, and save you so much, and Trent has not bothered to install one until December 2009?

    Or is it that the same thing is regurgitated here day in and day out for the sake of ad revenues so someone doesn’t have to have a real job?

  14. This is a much-appreciated article, I had forgotten all about this excellent source of money back!

    John DeFlumeri Jr.

  15. Johanna says:

    @Noel, Arthi: There are some discounts that renters can qualify for. In my area, for example, my electric company will give me big discount on next year’s electricity if I let them install a programmable thermostat that gives them the power to shut off my air conditioner during times of peak demand. I have to get my landlord’s permission, but the discount goes to me.

  16. Leah says:

    Trent, I thought you already had a programmable thermostat.

    For lurker Carl, the idea is this: you should let your house cool if you’re not going to be in it for long periods of time (say, at work) or sleeping. You save energy as the house is cooling, and it takes less energy for the house to maintain a lower temperature. Yes, you lose energy when the house warms back up again. Your period of energy savings comes during the amount of time your house maintains that lower temperature. If your house is so efficient that it takes 8 hours just to cool down to your lower temp, then you won’t save any money with a programmable thermostat. But, in my experience, I did save money because my house would cool down to that lower temp (usually 60 from a typical 65 when we’re home) in an hour or two. I set the thermostat to go back up an hour before we got home. It worked well for me.

  17. Henry says:

    Maybe he did have a programmable thermostat. Maybe it shorted out because it wasn’t installed by someone that knew how to do it. That’s about $30 lost on the first one because it wasn’t installed properly. If the pro had done it then, that money could’ve been recouped through the rebate.
    If it was installed some time ago, that was also a loss on running the furnace/AC for months/years because a pro would’ve had those ducts cleaned that long ago, instead of just now.
    So what we have here is an attempt to not help out a local business and contribute to the local economy just to save a dime, but the actual result was a large loss of money.
    People, support your local businesses, it will help everyone in the long run.

  18. Ryan says:

    Little harsh Henry don’t you think?

    Maybe Trent never got around to it. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the right to say they save money. It does seem surprising I guess…but overall not a big deal.

    And taking jabs at his full time blogging is just low.

    So people shouldn’t do anything themselves because it hurts local businesses… Really?

    Thermostats use a few low voltage wires. It isn’t exactly hard to install one.

  19. Henry says:

    You might not think it is hard Ryan, and you may be perfectly able to install it. A lot of people undertake a lot of things, thinking it is not hard, but wind up making things worse…We will not know until the people involved weigh in on the particulars.
    I know a guy that works with my husband. To hear this guy tell it, he is the most amazing, competent cook ever. And the job involves cooking for a group of men. He thinks he can do it, but his co-workers reports involve stories of undercooked pork chops (trichinosis!), burnt pizzas (how sad) and foul and frozen homemade lasagna. Easy and nothing to it he says, but really, the results beg to differ.
    I suppose I could read a medical textbook and tell you I can remove your kids tonsils, nothing to it, I know the procedure, but should you let me?

  20. Ryan says:

    When I said “not hard” I was aiming it towards Trent.

    I think he’s mentioned installing things similar before. And he’s mentioned his degree in mathematics (or was it computer science?) which leads me to believe he’d be very competent in matters of computers and electronics.

    Comparing a possibly dangerous medical procedure to an “untrained” homeowner doing some maintenance is so apples to oranges it’s not even funny.

  21. Georgia says:

    I live in a 43 y/o trailer. For the past 6+ years we have been upgrading our stuff to be more energy efficient. We got a new furnace/central air, a new steel insulated roof, all new double paned windows, and last year I had insulated siding put up and a partial wall on my carport.

    Last year I went to get a level pay payment on my utilities. Our town does all the utilities on one bill, except for phone/cable/computer. Since I had been at home only on weekends for 6 months and had turned the heat way down & not used much water, sewer, etc. we set my payment at $52 more a month than they had suggested. April 1st of this year was time to reset. My bills last year had averaged $178 a month, but I now had a $1110 credit. I divided it by 12 and subtracted it from the $178. I have been paying $90 per month and to date (11/30/09) I have only used about $85 of my credit. Seems my new stuff has really proved fantastic in conserving energy. I also got a new thermostat about 2 months ago.

    I will see if I can find someone who will clean the ventilation system on my trailer. Wish me luck.

    Henry, try thinking happy thoughts. It is so much more fun. I know – I’ve been practicing for 72.5 years.

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