We can’t afford much when it comes to home improvement these days. After all, our home improved by a lot when we bought our house last Spring. One of the first improvements we prioritized, however, was a home energy audit.
Like other states, our state has a program that provides free home energy audits. Not only does the auditor assess your home’s energy efficiency, she tells you what kinds of incentives and rebates are available for your situation. The auditor also replaced all 14 of our incandescent lightbulbs, gave us two programmable thermostats, and two smart power cords. The auditor estimated these changes to save us over $200 per year on energy costs.
The majority of energy use, however, goes to heating the ambient air in our home. The average American household uses 42% of its total energy use on space heating.
Our home was no exception. The auditor assessed our water boiler (which heats water and forces it through baseboard heating units) to be 75% efficient — which means that it had to heat the water to over 450 degrees before heating our ambient air to 68 degrees. Because our boiler was 50 years old, we qualified for an enormous rebate to replace it before the cold weather arrives.
We also qualified for a 0% loan to finance the boiler replacement.
Last week, we replaced our 50 year old, 75% efficient boiler with a new, 95% efficient boiler. The energy savings isn’t just the difference between 75 and 95, however, because (unlike our old boiler) our new boiler doesn’t need to use full power when it heats our home. Our estimated savings amounts to 35% off of our home heating bill. We haven’t lived here through the winter yet, so we can’t exactly pinpoint the savings. Based on our first heating bill, in April, we can guesstimate our annual savings at about $630.
WAIT!!! MORE debt?!!!
Yes, that’s right. We now have to add -$5,500 to our balance sheet.*
WHY?! WHAT are you doing?!?!
If we didn’t replace the boiler early, we wouldn’t qualify for a $3,500 rebate. And you know how much I like a bargain!
More than that, you know I hate to miss out on a bargain. We were gripped with the powerful psychology of Loss Aversion, where potential losses loom larger than potential gains. That means that the possibility of our 50-year-old heating system dying on us in the middle of winter became a much worse outcome in our minds than the reality of paying $90 a month on a 0% loan for the next seven years.
So here we are: Saving about $52 a month on our gas bill and paying $90 a month to another debt bill. We don’t break even until after our loan is paid off, in our eighth year. In the meantime, we invested a few bucks in upgrading our home’s system, avoided the potential loss of the $3,500 rebate, and are enjoying a quieter boiler.
In two weeks, we will have insulation added to the rim joists in the basement, install an insulating cover over our attic stairs, and will have all the air leaks in the house sealed up. The energy savings for this work is estimated to be $125 per year. The cost for this project is $0.
The energy auditor also recommended replacing our windows. The potential energy savings wasn’t worth the cost of replacing the windows, even if we could finance it with 0% interest. We also didn’t opt to have the attic insulated. It could stand to have double the amount of insulation that it currently has, but we would have to pull up all the floor boards and raise the joists and floor by 8 inches. We can barely stand up straight in our attic as it is currently, so we decided not to pursue that recommendation.
After implementing most of the energy auditor’s recommendations, we stand to save about $1,000 per year in gas and electric bills, for a total cost of $5,500 and a few missed days of work to supervise the process.
To find out if there are rebates or incentives in your state, visit Energy.gov.
Renters have fewer options for increasing efficiency, but I wrote up seven ways to do decrease utility costs here.
* Although we added more debt to our balance sheet, we are also going to get a little income boost. More on that next week …
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