City of Lodi program will help pay for energy-efficient home upgrades - News - Mobile

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City of Lodi program will help pay for energy-efficient home upgrades

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Does your house never get quite cool enough, no matter how much you run that air conditioner? How old is your water heater? Is there enough insulation in your attic? Unless you work in construction or are an electrician, you may have no idea.

The city of Lodi is starting a new program next week to help homeowners learn just how much energy their homes are wasting, and provide some money to solve the problem.

The Lodi Efficiency and Renewable Energy Pilot Program is run in tandem with Green Home Solutions by Grupe, a Stockton company focused on upgrading existing homes to be more energy efficient.

“They’ve done this with other cities, and they’ve got a nice track record,” said Rob Lechner, Lodi’s business development manager and program director for Lodi Electric Utility.

The idea is to conduct audits of the homes that use the most energy in Lodi, and help the homeowners find solutions so they can use less energy and have a more comfortable and cost-effective home.

The process starts with a meeting between the homeowner and technicians from Green Home Solutions. They explain what the audit entails and what it requires.

The homeowner then gives the OK for an exhaustive audit of every leak, poorly insulated room and older appliances and devices to see exactly where and how energy is wasted in the home.

A final report tells the homeowner what’s wrong and how to fix it.

The air duct is leaking? Seal it. Attic is losing all the cool air? Add new insulation. Air conditioner 25 years old? Might need a whole replacement. More changes could include installing a whole house fan, a tankless water heater or weatherizing the entire home.

Technicians will calculate how much each change will generate in energy savings using a simple standard formula. For example, if adding insulation and sealing windows makes a home 5 percent more efficient, the city will pay $500 to help cover costs.

If sealing air ducts makes a home 10 percent more efficient, the city will pay $1,000. Anything that improves a home’s efficiency by 25 percent or more will mean $2,500 in rebates.

If the costs really add up, such as with a new air conditioning unit, Green Home Solutions offers financing.

Lodi has offered rebates for improving energy efficiency in the home for 15 years. But the audit rebate and resulting upgrades are directed at very high energy users in town.

This pilot is only open to the 6,400 electric utility customers in the upper-rate tiers, meaning they use at least 800 kilowatt hours a month and are paying between $0.22 and $0.33 per hour. About 1,900 of these are in Tier 5 and will be contacted directly. They use the most energy of any homes in town, and stand to gain the most from improvements, said Lechner.

The cost of the audit is $400. If the customer pursues the upgrades it suggests, the city will cover the entire cost. But if the resident says, “No thanks, I don’t want to make changes right now,” the city’s assistance will be cut by half and the customer will owe $200 out of pocket.

“We are ensuring we don’t get wishy-washy folks,” said Lechner. “It’s going to happen.”

The Electric Utility has budgeted $200,000 to cover rebates for efficiency changes, and $125,000 to cover the costs of audits and marketing the program. The pilot program will be completed when that money runs out or by June 2014.

Lechner reminds residents the audit report doesn’t do anything unless it’s put to use.

“If you buy and install an EnergyStar refrigerator, but put your old one in the garage, that doesn’t help,” he said.

This isn’t to say residents in Lodi aren’t capable of making their own home improvements. But Lechner said the audit takes it to a whole new level.

“They can certainly go it alone. But if they aren’t experts, they might miss something,” he said. For example, in 15 years, Lechner has only heard of five people who installed their own whole house fans.

The audit takes four hours to test energy efficiency, safety and indoor air quality. Along with the air ducts, technicians test all gas appliances and carbon monoxide levels.

Stephanie Rodriquez, a spokeswoman for Green Home Solutions, said the biggest problem the company finds in older homes is lack of attic insulation.

If the home was built before 1978, there’s likely only two inches of insulation. oday’s codes require 13 inches. Duct leakage can stream 30 percent of air-conditioned air right out of the home.

“We want to save people money and make their home more comfortable,” she said.

The company ran similar programs in Stockton and the East Bay, called Energy Challenges.

Mark Berman is president of the Davis Energy Group, a company that studies whether these programs really improve the healthy, comfort and safety of homes.

Breman explained that old air conditioning systems and other efficiency problems often go unnoticed, and the costs don’t show up on the bill.

“If the system is lousy enough, people don’t use it,” he said.

He recommends the audit to anyone who thinks their air conditioner or heater is just not working right.

“A house is an investment 10 times that of a car, and we bring cars in twice a year,” he said. “We should have someone looking at our houses, too.”

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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