Home Electrification (Part 2): Finding Rebates, Incentives and Contractors
Author: Wei-Tai Kwok, Past President, Sustainable Lafayette (weitai[at]sustainablelafayette.org)
In my last blog post I talked about why my wife and I were motivated to embark on an effort this summer to remove natural gas from our house by the fall and “go all electric” powered by the sun. Our next step was to identify what in our home was powered by natural gas:
1. One hot water heater (75-gallon tank)
2. Two furnaces in our ducted central air and heating system
3. Gas cooktop
4. Gas fireplace
We decided to prioritize the first two items as they were more complex decisions and would require more time and research.
I had two questions at this point which I’ll cover in today’s blog post:
Are there any incentive or rebate programs that I could take advantage of to save money?
What type of vendors or contractor should I be looking for?
My utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), turned out to be a good starting point and their website turned out to be a rich source of up-to-date information and leads on home energy upgrades and contractors approved to do installs tied to rebates up to $5,500.
Another source of energy efficiency rebates is Bay Area Regional Network (BayREN), which provides regional-scale energy efficiency programs and services to reduce carbon emissions and promote healthy, energy-efficient buildings and homes. The BayREN Home+ rebate program is available for detached single-family homes and 2-4 unit buildings in the nine Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma.
I looked into both of these, but was disappointed that my home couldn't access these incentives, though there ARE more incentives now in 2022.
PG&E: Here are the active incentives right now (as of February 2023). As I would frustratingly learn several times in this process, if I was going from a natural gas to electric hot water heater, the rebate didn’t apply. That’s because getting more efficient due to “fuel switching” was not incentivized at the time by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), although the good news is that on August 1, 2019, the CPUC voted unanimously to amend this outdated regulation, thus opening the door for readers in California to benefit from the $1 billion in available energy efficiency incentives. Read more here. That being said, even by 2022, the PG&E incentives cannot be used if you switch from gas to electric.
BayREN in 2019 offered $5,000 rebates for energy efficiency upgrades including air sealing, duct sealing, insulation, high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners, high efficiency water heaters, and more. I was interested in all these, but the rebates are paid only for homes built in 2001 or earlier. My home, completed in 2004, did not qualify. Also, the fuel-switching regulation would again have made me ineligible for big portions of the funding, even if my home was built before 2001.
***NEWSFLASH*** in early 2020, the BayREN Home+ Rebate measures removed the "fuel switching" issue and so now you CAN get incentives for going from gas to electric. California Rebate & Incentive Details here: Search by zip code.
In summary, I could get no rebates from PG&E or BayREN back in 2019, though YOU CAN TODAY in 2022!
If I had lived in nearby Marin County, I would have been able to claim more than $2,000 in county-level electrification rebates, but where I live in Contra Costa County, we don’t have a similar program in place yet.
Be sure to check for local incentives where you live, because there are an increasing number coming online.
Though we struck out on the incentives, my wife and I still wanted to move forward so now it was time to find a contractor.
FEDERAL TAX CREDITS (Updated February 22, 2023)
Great news here, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is the single largest Federal action to address the climate crisis, and there are significant incentives, rebates and tax credits now available to all Americans. It's too complex to go into within the blog post, so I refer you to the Rewiring America website which is doing a great job keeping the America public apprised of how to access these benefits. Check out how much benefit you're eligible for at their IRA Calculator.
PICKING THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR
Whereas my home electrification project could be as simple as replacing the four gas appliances in the house by hiring four different contractors (HVAC, Plumber, Fireplace and Kitchen), I wanted to take a more integrated rather than a piecemeal approach. I was looking for a multidisciplinary contractor who would look at the retrofit at a systems level. I didn't actually know what I was looking for, but I thought I'd recognize it when I saw it.
Also, while there are many free home energy audits which undoubtedly uncover an array of energy efficiency improvements, I was looking to get a more holistic view of our building energy performance. We built our home in 2004 and over the past 15 years living here, we have learned about the many good and bad decisions we made at the time! Our builder (who we liked a lot) came from the “bigger is better” school of thought, and so we did “overbuild.” For example, we have a 75-gallon rather than 40 gallon hot water heater; and 3.5 Ton and 3.0 Ton A/C units, both too big and one which was never needed to cool our already-cool downstairs. (We have a 2 ½ car garage and don’t regret oversizing that at all :-)
Therefore, although I had seen and received dozens of advertisements in the mail from AC and heating, attic insulation, and hot water heating companies, I did not call any of them for proposals.
I searched for, and eventually found, a company called Eco Performance Builders, a Concord, CA-based building performance contractor specializing in residential retrofits. Their company blog had many articles related to my project needs, including heat pumps, furnace retrofits, Zero Net Energy homes, etc. I later learned that they were one of the top outfits here in Northern California, so it was lucky they were headquartered only 20 min from my home. I decided to call them to explore the first step in the process: an energy audit of my home.
Read my next Blog Post on What the Eco Performance Builders energy audit revealed about my house.
Must read! Pocket Guide to Home Electrification Retrofits (March 2021)