Feds’ Home Energy Score targets Allegheny County
The federal government has started a pilot program called Home Energy Score in an effort to increase home energy efficiency and boost the home retrofit industry, and Allegheny County is one of 10 communities involved nationwide.
The program, introduced this week by Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, will offer homeowners energy audits at lower cost and low-interest loans to help pay for improvements that experts say can help them save $2,000 or more per year on energy bills and pay back costs of improvements in three to five years.
Contractors who offer home energy audits said the program could provide a boost to their industry.
The pilot program will be run in Allegheny County by Downtown-based EfficiencyPA, a nonprofit group organized a year ago and funded by Duquesne Light Co. and other partners, said program manager John Horchner.
Home energy audits typically cost $600 to $700 for a full diagnostic survey, which includes a blower test for airtightness of a home, infrared camera tests to detect gaps where air infiltrates and other measures, Horchner said. Under the Home Energy Score pilot program, audits are expected to cost $400 to $500 for a limited test, he said.
“Our domestic energy audit covers only the blower door, not the infrared or other activities under that audit, thus producing a lower cost to the homeowner,” Horchner said.
He believes the lower price will remain even after the pilot program ends because homeowners will be able to select a limited test.
The pilot program will select a minimum of 12 local homes to participate, and more could be added if the demand warrants, Horchner said. To participate, homeowners can sign up at EfficiencyPa.com, a website that promotes ideas for improving energy use in homes.
Local contractors certified and registered through the Department of Energy will conduct the audits, Horchner said. His agency may receive about $25,000 for support of the program from the department.
Under the Home Energy Score audits, homes will be rated on efficiency on a scale of 1 to 10. A score of 10 represents a home with excellent energy performance, while a 1 represents one that would benefit from major energy upgrades.
Horchner said a house with a 10 rating could have annual savings of between $2,000 to $3,000 compared to a house with a 5 rating.
Tim Carryer, a contractor who operates Green over Green Co., heads the local trade association Diagnostic Energy Auditors, which represents 25 contractors that offer home energy audits. He said the program could help his group attract business.
Highland Park homeowner John Barentine had an audit performed on his three-story home, built in the late 1800s, that used the blower test to find leaks. He said a contractor then corrected the problems found and made other improvements.
“About 25 percent of the $30,000 I spent was for correcting the leaks and for other energy efficiency corrections. But most of the money went for a new roof, fascia and gutters,” Barentine said.
Part of the cost went for installing a super-high-efficiency boiler and sealing nine dormers on the roof.
In January, even while work was under way to improve his home’s energy efficiency, Barentine said, he experienced a 25 percent reduction on his natural gas bill from the same month in 2009.
“The house is more comfortable with fewer drafts — you need some air infiltration to avoid breathing problems — and my wife and two college-age children agree with the results,” he said.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will offer loans under the Federal Housing Administration of up to $25,000 to homeowners who, following the energy assessment, make recommended improvements. These loans, which will start as a two-year pilot program early next year, will offer federally insured loans up to 20 years from private lenders, Biden said during his announcement of the program.
“These new FHA PowerSaver loans will help credit-worthy borrowers with low-cost loans to pay for installation of insulation, duct sealing, doors and windows, heating and cooling systems, water heaters, solar panels and geothermal systems,” he said.