Invisible upgrades, enormous savings

How insulation and weatherization benefit homeowners and accelerate building decarbonization

Weatherization is often considered the least sexy topic of conversation in the home electrification space. No shiny new machine, no supremely impressive cooking, etc. BUT, as we just learned from a recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), when weatherization (especially insulation) is paired with the modern all-electric appliances we already love, BIG efficiencies can be achieved. 

During a presentation on a recent BDC Presents with Mike Specian, Utilities Manager for ACEEE, and Charlie Haack, Vice President for the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, the Building Decarbonization Coalition hosted a discussion about the benefits that homeowners unlock when they complete weatherization upgrades. This is a great presentation if you want to dig into the details, otherwise we’ve provided the cliff notes version below.

When planning for home upgrades, some are obvious; like preparing to replace an old furnace or air conditioner on its last legs, with a new super efficient heat pump. But often overlooked (because they are literally hidden behind the walls) are the weatherization upgrades that can improve the efficiency of your home by sealing air leaks, insulating attics, ceilings, walls, or basements, and upgrading windows and doors. In short, weatherization works to tighten the building envelopes; it makes your home more like a thermos, and less like a plastic cup. And because heating and cooling make up over 50% of the energy used in homes, improving on that envelope can make a big difference in efficiency, and that translates into saving money on energy bills.  

Deep weatherization (such as adding insulation) can save most households between $500-$800 per year just by making the home more efficient. When you pair weatherization with heat pumps, homes can really see the savings grow, AND those homes add a real value to the energy grid, as they need less energy during peak demand. 

If your home has an old or substandard furnace or air conditioner, the poor performance tends to be readily apparent — like how you can hear it in the rattle of an AC unit on its last legs. But that isn’t the case with energy savings upgrades, Specian noted, which is why many homeowners overlooked them in the past.

“Energy efficiency is invisible,” Specian said. “. That acted as a financial disincentive to do the work. Thankfully that’s changed.”

Now, homeowners are increasingly incentivized to pursue these upgrades. They can get certified tests proving the improved energy efficiency of their homes, which has been shown to increase the value, Specian said. There’s also a huge influx of federal funding that will soon be available, and will make these energy savings upgrades more affordable thanks to programs in the Inflation Reduction Act. And right now, you can check out our incentive finder tool to find local and regional incentives in your area for weatherization. 

One program is called the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act (in effect mid/late 2024), and is specifically for low- and moderate-income households who earn less than 150% of the area median income (defined by the federal government). Households who earn less than 80% can receive incentives that are equal to the full cost of a project, while those earning between 80-150% can receive up to half the cost. This is important because these households live in buildings that are 20% less energy efficient and have more than twice as much air leakage.

There’s other benefits for homeowners to enjoy, too, such as more comfortable living spaces, keeping out wildfire smoke and other air pollutants, and keeping your home comfortable longer if a power outage occurs in extreme heat or cold.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, space heating is the largest energy consumer in homes.

Energy savings upgrades are a key way to slash climate pollution from buildings nationwide.