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Green Building Blog

Utilities Offer Programs That Can Benefit Your Customers

Not only that — these utility-sponsored energy-efficiency programs can lower your energy bills, too

Seal your duct leaks! In many areas of the U.S., local utilities provide duct-sealing services at a subsidized rate. If you're lucky, the service may even be free.
Image Credit: Fine Homebuilding

In Texas, as in many other states, local electric utilities offer homeowners a variety of free services to help lower energy bills.

According to a website maintained by the Free Lighting Corporation, “The State of Texas has developed programs to assist qualified electric customers of investor-owned utilities in installing energy-saving improvements to help reduce consumption of energy. All electric or gas homes, low income/senior citizens, homeowners, rentals, and small businesses qualify. … Texas has mandated the electric delivery companies provide relief. This service not only provides you with reduced utility expenses but also helps reduce carbon emissions into the environment.

“Qualified Homes May Receive at subsidized or NO COST:

  • Weatherization measures to reduce the loss of cold/heated air
  • Seal air leaks in A/C Ducts
  • Compact Fluorescent Lights
  • Showerheads, and
  • Insulation.”

Having watched friends, customers, and family members get additional insulation, free CFLs, weatherstripping around their doors, sealing work at return-air chases, and sealing work on supply duct systems — all at no cost — I thought it was time to schedule an appointment for my home.

In all fairness, my delay was not related to procrastination, but rather to the word “qualified” in the program requirements. You see, if your home is undergoing remodeling, it does not qualify — and since I am a remodeler, my house has been in state of remodeling since I bought it seven years ago.

With the remodeling complete, I recently decided that it was test time for me!

Free duct sealing work and free CFLs

I gave them a call, and they said that the next time they were in my area they would schedule a time to come out to my home. It could be days or months, I was told.

But less than two weeks later, two seemingly qualified technicians showed up at my door, ready to go. Alas, I was not home at the time. But my wife let them in, and they spent the next couple of hours performing a blower-door test and duct blaster test — both at no charge.

Once finished, they sealed my ducts and got my duct leakage down to 126 cfm (down from the pre-retrofit rate of 360 cfm). In addition, I received 10 free CFLs! Not bad, considering it was free. But I was still disappointed not to get my return-air chase sealed.

Helping your customers is good PR

So what’s the point of sharing this story with you?

First, to remind you to share information on programs like this with your clients and potential clients, because when you share information on good opportunities that will benefit them, with no direct benefit to you, you immediately have credibility in their eyes. It’s just like good PR — you can’t beat that! And the money they save will free up dollars they can spend on remodeling services you offer.

Secondly, I would like to propose that despite the current fashion against government mandates, that some of them, however imperfect, work pretty well. After all, these are investor-owned utilities that are subsidizing these costs — and to the best of my knowledge, none of them have seen their share prices decline as a result of this government-imposed mandate.

So, as your business advisor / blogger, I hope you will redouble your efforts to see what government programs can help you, your family, your clients, and your business save money.

sealed register.png


  1. zt88TUzzpw | | #1

    Great reminder
    Utility rebates and programs are generally an excellent win-win for both the building owner and the utility. Not only does the building owner reduce their utility bills and wasted energy, but the utilities can benefit by deferred need for increased energy production. It's important though to determine what programs exist within your state. While some states have mandated such programs, others may not have any such program. In such cases, see what may be available at the federal level. It should certainly pay off.

  2. Michael Strong, LEED Associate, CGP | | #2

    Where to find state rebates
    And as you may know Buildingwell, is a great resource for a state by state listing of said programs. Established in 1995 and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE is an ongoing project of the N.C. Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. It is regularly updated and has a very friendly interface.

  3. Michael Strong, LEED Associate, CGP | | #3

    State Appliance Rebate Programs
    Oh and don't forget for specific appliance rebate programs on a state by state by state level which still have money...

  4. DXx3Ge3SAJ | | #4

    The Other Side of the Coin
    With most things in life there are usually multiple viewpoints. The preceding comments represent one. As a home performance contractor I can say that it is a little disconcerting to hear that States and/or Utilities are providing our bread and butter services to potential customers free of charge. Sure, with 130 million existing homes in the US, there is enough work to go around, and it can be argued that the folks who take advantage of those services would not pay for them anyway. Further, it could be said that these efforts might actually increase business in the long run by raising consumer awareness of the benefits of energy audits and efficiency improvements, but I would ask how the traditional remodeling contractors would feel if states began to give away kitchen remodels or finished basements? But of course that is an absurd question, since there is no societal benefit to be gained from doing so, but it serves put another point of view in context.

    I would argue that states and utilities would be better served by giving away these services only to the truly needy, while spending the balance of their energies and resources on making energy efficient loans programs such as PACE available to their residents. In so doing, they would empower the free market to do the job only it can do; foster a truly 'sustainable' market for these services, as opposed to one that is entirely dependent on giveaways.

  5. 7u8zfUR5vB | | #5

    Free money huh? Common sense check anyone?
    No rebate/credit/incentive program is good for anybody! What kind of fool you would have to be to think it is win/win! Nothing is free people, here in Austin if you want a 1000$ rebate, it takes over 1100$ from it's customers to give it to you. This cost is applied to your KWH rate so while you may save 500KWH/year using the program, you will pay so much more per KWH that even though you use 500kwh less, your overall annual bill actually GOES UP! Who is this benefitting? The company that offered you the rebate made over 100$ for offering the rebate, there you go. Could you have just hired your own contractor of choice and been better off than using a rebate/credit/incentive program? HELL YES! My grandpa talks of days men were ashamed to go to the welfare line, now you can have a half million dollar home and have your hands out for public money and nobody thinks any less of ya? What are you idiots letting this country become? If you think anything is free you are an idiot, I don't want to be rude, but people really make it sound like this money for rebates comes from Austin Energy money trees behind their building! THE REBATE PROGRAMS ARE SCAMS DESIGNED TO INCREASE YOUR COST OF KWH WHILE MOST OF THE MONEY GOES TO WEALTHY HOMEOWNERS THAT CAN AFFORD THOUSANDS IN HOME UPGRADES....HELL THEY CAN AFFORD HOMES TO UPGRADE IN THE FIRST PLACE. While people here in Austin scraping by in an apartment helps pay your home energy welfare check. Great programs, great ideas.......NOT!

  6. 7u8zfUR5vB | | #6

    This should be enough to keep Michael Strong from writing again!
    "After all, these are investor-owned utilities that are subsidizing these costs." Oh, when their profit stays the same, that means YOU subsidize the cost, the cost goes STRAIGHT to you the customer. "Not bad, considering it was free." duh......uh......duh..........sure, those guys didn't get paid did they? Must have been free, since you didn't write them a check right there huh? lol People that can't figure out nothing is free......just disgusting. They didn't even seal your return plenum! LOL. I am sure you can trust their post duct seal number too! I used to offer rebates as a company, until I did the math and also realized that the worst contractors in town, were the ones offering rebates through Austin Energy.

  7. Michael Strong, LEED Associate, CGP | | #7

    Nothing is Free
    For real? Of course nothing is “free”. The point of the blog is not to state the obvious. Part of the point is to let folks know that if they can have this work done to their homes at no additional out of pocket cost, that they can then do something productive with the resulting savings. Like contributing to a big corporate PAC, buying donuts, or splurging on premium gas for their suv.

    Why not suggest something positive? Lets try this. Step one kill the program. Next? Well, wait a minute; since this scam was designed to increase the cost of kwh now that we have killed it we get all that money back right? Will our electricity rates be rolled back? Yeah, right. Ok, but at any rate now that we have all the money back we were scammed out of what do we do? Bueler? Crap, there are still 100’s of thousands of older homes out there that need energy retrofitting and some combination of lack of desire and money means even fewer are being upgraded now that the scam has been killed.

    Well, our electricity usage is now going up at a higher rate, so we need to build another power plant and we need bond money to do that and we need to raise property taxes to pay the bonds and guess who is paying for all this? Not people in apartments scrapping to get by because they don’t pay property taxes and their apartments are “all bills paid”. They are chillin in the ac while all the wealthy homeowners who can afford the upgrades pay the higher property taxes. And now the apartment renters are the ones cashing the home energy welfare checks because they don’t care what the rates are. And the world is back in balance.

    Listen, I am not smart enough to know the answers to big problems like this but I am smart enough to know my utility bill payment each month is paying for the energy-retrofitting program I wrote about. And if I am paying for it, I want the service. And the more people that are paying for this service that actually get the benefits of the service, the better.

  8. 9mFRXAQVUr | | #8

    Learn math! PLEASE!
    "I am smart enough to know my utility bill payment each month is paying for the energy-retrofitting program I wrote about." Not just you, when the DOE give grants for these programs, any poor taxpayer is paying for it. Are you admiting you could not afford it? That is why you took the welfare?
    Definition of REBATE: a return of a part of a payment

    Definition of WELFARE: aid in the form of money for those in need

    If you wanted to lower your utility bills by upgrading something in the home you bought by choice, MAYBE YOU COULD JUST HIRE SOMEBODY? No, you put your hands out and asked many other unknowing rate payers, and tax payers to pay it for you. BPI sent me research showing that Return on Investment for the money you spend is BETTER when just hiring a contractor direct. Yes! When the program is killed they have to lower thier rates THEY ARE REGULATED RATES! Before you write, try doing some research other than stealing public money for your own gains and then bragging about it ignorantly. You don't even know where the money is coming from yet! But you take it anyway, and convince people it's win/win. Yeah it's win for you, ever thought about the taxpayer/minimum rate payer that like many who lived through the depression, our grandparents and parents who don't use enough heating and cooling to gain anything from this? Your ignorance of math and this system is beyond belief, do your research, rewrite the story! Please stop spreading your ignorance to others. "Not people in apartments scrapping to get by because they don’t pay property taxes and their apartments are “all bills paid”. WOW, YOU ARE AMAZING! You write, but don't even understand that all property taxes are part of rent? LOL So when property taxes go up, landlords sit back and just lose money? LOL WOW! Few apartments I know have utility paid, the tenants typically pay their own bills, and guess what rocket scientist, if their overall energy bills go up, SO DOES RENT. Or wait, in your mind the landlord just says "dang, less profit for me, thats ok" LOL Come on GBC, where are the intelligent life forms?

  9. 9mFRXAQVUr | | #9

    Less rude version
    Let me try to explain the math in a nicer manner. Say John has 100$ to spend upgrading his home. He can hire somebody and pay them 100$ for their service, and get a 100$'s worth of service. Now as an ex-contractor for rebate programs, I can promise, those programs create more overhead for the contractor, meaning to keep profits the same and stay afloat as a business you have to only offer 90$ worth of service for the 100$. Now the people offering the "rebate" or more accurately "homeowner welfare", usually the utililty combined with DOE "grants" both have overhead handling the 100$, so they can only rebate 80$, now and the contractor gets the 80$, but can only offer 70$ worth of service because of the company overhead of dealing with the rebate program. So through the rebate program, a very kind estimate would be for 100$, the customer recieves at best 70$ worth of service. Why would it be smart to use the rebate? Because the takers of the 70$ are getting money at the cost of their neighbors, and through the DOE are taking money from any federal tax payer across the globe. "hawaii, military in other countries and so on" Win for the takers, but the givers of the 100$ automatically lose 30$ and if they don't take welfare themselves, are losing the total of the 100$ to provide you with 70$ worth of service. You could pay the 100$ and the local contractor gets profit in which they pay you back when they need your service. This is why it is smart to "buy local" Or you help donate to the system and pay a secretary in D.C., a secretary at your huge utility company that might live in another city or even another state, and the contractor gets less of the money. I wish I could draw you a picture because that may be the only way to explain this to you! Worst part is, none of those upgrades would save you as much as 1 degree on your thermostat, but hey, as long as you are comfortable right?

  10. 9mFRXAQVUr | | #10

    Driving consumption, not conservation.
    You know if you buy a washer and dryer that is three times more efficient, it is equivelant to wearing your third world produced clothes three times before you wash them right? Lets not be conservative lets increase consumption instead and call it "green" and let the bank run govt spend more of our debt producing money putting an "energy star" logo on an appliance that is just efficient w/out the sticker. Let's send our old washer and dryer that work fine to the dump, promote consumption by having GE manufacture a new washer and dryer and keep washing our clothes 1.5 times for every time we wear them! The DOE that sends you welfare is likely borrowing the money from banks, who charge interest on those loans. So let us all take 500$ for ourselves so that our children can spend the rest of their lives paying back that loan which ends up costing us all over 1000$ by the time it is all said and done. Genious. Great for the short time economy and the short sighted "greenies" out there, horrible in the long run to those of us with the ability to look at things with more depth and aren't bothered on bit by just wearing our clothes more w/out washing them constantly. You need incentive to use less energy? Go stick your head over the stacks at the coal fired power plant, that should be all the incentive you need. Go look at all the energy used manufacturing your new appliances and again, do the math. You want to live "green", go back in time about 50-100 years and live like they did, hand wash your clothes, dig a hole in the ground and pack it full of winter snow and ice for refrigeration, grow your own food instead of buying stuff shipped from god knows wear and live the green way, homes don't use one watt of energy, people do! Heavan forbid you just change the way you live You keep trying to have your cake and eat it too. Good luck, just please stop promoting more national debt through your own personal ignorance.

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