Now is the time to weather- and winter-ize our homes, and not just because the temperatures are dropping (the Old Farmer's Almanac is predicting a milder-than-usual winter). More than $10,000 in per-household tax credits and rebates are up for grabs through different federal and state programs for insulation and home-energy system upgrades, but not all of them will be available in 2011. As we balance on the cusp of home-heating season, and with oil prices expected to rise modestly this winter, efficiency measures are our only defense against energy-suckage and high bills.
Forget about the environment. Energy-saving efforts save money for single-family homeowners, landlords, and renters alike. If you're a homeowner, the benefits speak for themselves — between the rebates and what you can write off on your taxes, you're getting home upgrades at a steep discount. If you're a landlord who pays for heat in your buildings, the economic pluses are equally apparent (and if you're a tenant in one of those buildings and your apartment seems inefficient, it might be worth asking if you're landlord knows about all the money he or she could save, for next to nothing). If you're a renter who pays your own heating bills, well, then, you're screwed. No, just kidding. (I hope. I'm in that boat. And let me tell you, keeping the heat off just leads to frozen pipes.)
"The time's never been better," says Keith Baumm, owner of the USA Insulation franchise in Portland. Baumm points out that Maine is the most oil-dependent state in the country, and the one with the oldest housing stock — a lot of buildings that were built a hell of a long time ago. It makes sense, then, that "Maine homeowners have the sweetest deal in the country" when it comes to efficiency incentives.
The process is relatively simple: Get an energy audit (infrared scans, blower door testing) from a state-certified energy advisor (the audit usually costs around $500); make the suggested improvements (which can range from $3000-10,000 and up); get money back.
Depending on how much energy you save, you can a rebate of up to $3000 from Efficiency Maine (which was established by the state legislature in 2002 to help save energy costs and is funded in part by a small percentage of our electricity bills). Landlords can do such retrofits on buildings with up to four units; they'd get $3000 per unit. If you're a Unitil customer and your energy improvements reduce your energy consumption by 50 percent or more, you're eligible for an $8000 rebate. Yes, you read that right.
Plus there's a $1500 federal tax credit available for energy retrofits — but that runs out at the end of 2011.
Property owners (and future energy auditors!) can learn all about these programs at efficiencymaine.com, which I am hereby dubbing The Best Web Site About Boring-But-Important Stuff.
And what if, like me, you pay for your own heat but you live in a rented unit, where it makes no sense to invest in energy-efficiency upgrades? Here a few small-scale, DIY undertakings that will lower both your bills and your carbon footprint:
• Keep your thermostat low — 55 degrees when you're at work; 68 degrees when you're home; 60 degrees for sleeping.