Green day for energy makeover winners

May 18, 2011

Short of a visit from Ty Pennington, it’s the ultimate homeowner’s daydream: $10,000 or even $50,000 to bring the old place up to date.

In the case of six lucky Los Angeles County families, just such a windfall is headed their way. But don’t turn green with envy—because these environmentally-friendly home improvement projects are meant to benefit everybody.

Winners were announced today in the Home Energy Makeover Contest sponsored by Energy Upgrade California, an alliance among L.A. County, local cities, Southern California Edison and the Southern California Gas Company.

The $50,000 Grand Prize makeover went to the Gerardo family of San Fernando, whose 1953 one-story home will be transformed into a “near zero energy house.” (Which means that this prize will be a gift that keeps on giving as far as future energy bills are concerned.)

The upgrades to the Gerardo home will range from solving ventilation and insulation problems to replacing their antiquated swimming pool pump.

The other makeover prizes, worth $10,000 each, went to families in Encino, LaVerne, Pomona, Baldwin Hills and Whittier.

Meet the Gerardos and the other winners here.

More than 1,425 homeowners entered the contest, which is meant to inspire all of us to get with the energy-saving program. (You can start your own action plan here.)

Posted 5/12/11

A new kind of green incentive

March 10, 2011

Sure, you consider yourself an environmentally conscious consumer doing all you can to reduce your carbon footprint. But spending a few dollars on recyclable grocery bags is one thing, undertaking a costly upgrade of your home to make it more energy efficient is quite another.

Now, however, Los Angeles County can help you put your wallet where your heart is.

The county’s Office of Sustainability is rolling out a program called Energy Upgrade California, designed to reward homeowners with rebates and incentives when they make green improvements to their homes. The program’s goal is to retrofit 18,000 homes while creating 2,000 green-collar jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20,000 metric tons.

To drum up interest and participation, a Home Energy Makeover Contest will be held this spring, with winners receiving up to $50,000 worth of energy upgrades to their homes.

Energy Upgrade California—an alliance between L.A. County, cities within the county, Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Company—is being underwritten by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The program advocates a “whole house” approach designed to maximize energy savings in both dollars and kilowatts.

Homeowners can take advantage of the program simply by registering online. Energy Upgrade and its partners take it from there.

First, contractors meet with homeowners and conduct a computer modeling of their houses to determine the most efficient and effective level of upgrades. The contractors then make the actual improvements and apply for all government and utility rebates on behalf of the customers. These basic upgrades usually include everything from sealing windows to insulating walls to installing energy efficient water heaters and fixtures.

Additional home upgrades are available upon request, including solar power installations or “green upgrades” that will certify the eco-friendliness and efficiency of your home with a GreenPoint rating.

The initial cost of upgrades can range from $2,000 for a basic package to $8,000-$15,000 for an advanced one. Rebates can total up to $4,500 depending on how much work you have done and how much energy is saved. For the truly committed, spending about $50,000 will bring a house close to zero energy consumption.

Between the rebates and savings from reduced utility bills, it’s possible to partially or completely recoup the initial investment. For $1,000 in improvements (after rebates) it is expected that a homeowner will save 10% in utility costs. The market value of your house will also improve.  For more complete examples and explanations see “Meet the Sanchez Family” on Energy Upgrade’s website, or watch their video vignette.

Contractors who want to participate in the program must complete a training workshop, and meet other requirements. To perform services beyond basic house-sealing and insulation, they must be certified by the Building Performance Institute (BNI), a nonprofit organization that works with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop home energy efficiency methods.

Meanwhile, to enter the Home Energy Makeover Contest, visit the website by March 31 and be ready with your name, address, phone number, utility provider, information about your home and last years’ utility bills. You must be over 21 to enter and own a home located in Los Angeles County.

Winners will be selected based on their capacity to save energy and serve as examples for future energy-saving homeowners. Five winners will be selected to receive $10,000 each in free improvements. One grand prize winner will receive $50,000 worth of improvements. Complete details on eligibility and prizes are available online.

Energy Upgrade California represents the latest in a nationwide push to protect the environment and create sustainable jobs. There have been some setbacks along the way, but with cooperative efforts like this we may be able to preserve our planet and our pocketbooks at the same time.

Posted 3/10/11