Winter is the time of year when we really test our home heating system. It’s a good idea to take notice. Is your system sufficient and efficient? You know your system is sufficient if it heats all parts of your house well. You know your system is efficient if you don’t catch your breath when you look at your December utility bill. If you aren’t happy with your system or your bills, then maybe it’s time to look closer at making your home more energy efficient and making a plan to replace your system with a more energy efficient one.

Make your home as energy efficient as possible

One of the best ways to lower your utility bills is to work on your home’s “envelope,” which you can think of as the jacket and hat you put on your house to keep the warm air in and the cold air out. One of the biggest bangs for your heating buck is to put a “warm hat” on your house, and one of the warmest is attic insulation. Stopping air leaks by adding weather striping and replacing old drafty windows and doors is like buttoning your coat. And wall insulation is the difference between a light weight coat and a down puffy jacket. Heating bills can be drastically reduced by improving your home’s envelope.

Check out all these great ideas to improving your home’s energy efficiency at Valley Clean Energy’s website, our local energy provider.

Energy Efficiency

Is heating maintenance important?

Yes, to make sure your system is running in tip-top shape, maintenance is super important. Ongoing maintenance from a professional is a great way to identify problems such as carbon monoxide leaks as well as get a handle on the estimated life expectancy of your system. Make an appointment with a trusted local HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) contractor to minimize preventable breakdowns. Changing the air filter on your centralized ducted system is also important for the efficiency or your system and for indoor air quality. Check out our #LiveCoolDavis YouTube video to see how to change your own filter (click below).

 

What if it breaks?

If your system breaks on a cold day in January, it is a full blown emergency. That’s why having an ongoing relationship with an HVAC contractor can be super valuable. Talking to new contractors can be intimidating, especially in a pandemic where face-to-face conversation should be is limited. Cool Davis has planning guides like “Working With Contractors” and  “Make a Home Heating and Cooling System Plan…Now” to help guide your thought process and contractor conversations. See all our planning guides on our website.

What should I get?

There are many technologies that make your heating system smart and efficient. Even if you have an old system, getting a smart thermostat can save money. It’s estimated that replacing a manual thermostat with a smart thermostat can save you up to $390 per year in heating a cooling costs. There is even a rebate through PG&E for $120 off a qualified smart thermostat when you sign up for a time-of-use rate. Scroll down for more details about home energy incentives up to $5,500 and more!

For your heating system, you have many choices but ultimately you want to end up with the most efficient system you can. Getting the most efficient system you can saves money and reduces carbon emissions. Make sure when comparing systems you look at life-cycle cost. Life-cycle costs take into account all the costs of the system for it’s entire life (for heaters that’s about 20 years). This includes monthly energy bills, maintenance, and initial purchase price. Asking your HVAC contractor for this analysis helps you calculate ongoing expenses. For example, if an energy efficient system costs $500 more than a standard system initially but saves you $250 every year in utilities and maintenance, over the 20 years of the system you’ll save about $5000 in utility bills, making it easier to justify that $500 up front cost.

For natural gas furnace systems, make sure to ask for a quote for a condensing furnace and ask for a variable speed fan. Both generally result in positive life-cycle savings.

There is also a big conversation going on locally and at the state level about going all-electric. In 2020, the city of Davis adopted an incentive for all new homes to be constructed with wiring for all-electric appliances. A heat pump is one way to move from gas to electricity for heating needs. Energy Star rated heat pumps qualify for tax credits and rebates and drastically reduce the carbon footprint of your home heating. You can read more about how new homes are being built with no natural gas hookups in this article by the LA Times.

If new homes are going all-electric, can older homes be retrofitted, too?

Yes! Cool Davis is working on creating an all-electric road map for remodeling homes! Stay tuned as we develop content and a workshop to help you transition away from natural gas. What we have learned so far is that going all-electric will take some planning, but it is very possible. People in our community are installing mini-split heat pumps to improve room comfort and heating costs. If you’re interested in going all-electric, it’s never too early to start the conversation with your HVAC professional. Some remodels require electric panel upgrades and new wiring which is hard to justify in an emergency. So plan ahead and prep your house so when you are ready for a new system, your ducts are in a row! 🙂

Federal home energy efficiency incentives

PG&E/Valley Clean Energy customers are eligible for rebates to cover the cost of electric Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) system repairs or upgrades, plus a $5,500 maximum incentive per home for Attic insulation, Wall Insulation, Floor Insulation, Duct Sealing, Duct Replacement, Right-sized Return, Heat Pump Space Conditioning, Cooling, Heat Pump Water Heater, Pool Pump, and more.

The first step is to contact a registered contractor in our region (none in Davis proper yet). Contractors are tasked with recommending and reporting an appropriate bundle of services for you and eventual rebate eligibility. This is a performance based program.

Visit www.comfortablehomerebates.com (hosted by PG&E) to get started. See our latest incentives article for more ways to save.

When does solar come into play?

GREAT NEWS! Solar tax credits were extended in the latest national spending bill, so rest assured the 26% tax credit (which also applies to battery storage when installed with solar) is good through 2023. See our latest incentives article for more ways to save.

If you have solar and produce more then you consume, switching from gas to electricity for some appliances just makes sense. If you use more then you produce or you don’t have solar, opt-up to Valley Clean Energy’s 100% renewable UltraGreen rate so you can rest easy that all your electricity is carbon free. Either way electricity is one way to make heating our homes more sustainable.

For more information about going solar, please check out our solar page to find planning guides and learn from your neighbors experiences.

Find out more about home energy savings

Read a Cool Davis post from this past April: “Shelter-in-Place and Your Home Energy

Learn about our work supporting all-electric households in Davis and a fun and informative supporting video:

Cool Davis receives $6,000 for all-electric engagement  

Chrissy Backman is the Cool Davis Energy Field Coordinator and a state licensed mechanical engineer. Chrissy earned a degree in Environmental Resources Engineering at Humboldt State University, where she also enjoyed courses in building energy consumption and advanced thermodynamics. Chrissy previously served in the United States Air Force and worked for Davis Energy Group (now Frontier Energy) as a building energy analyst. She grows her own front yard harvest and has experience installing greywater systems. She can be contacted with questions about home energy at coolsolutions@cooldavis.org.