What is weatherization and efficiency, and why do they matter?
The cleanest and cheapest energy is the energy we never produce or use. There are two key ways to reduce energy use: energy conservation refers to changing behaviors to reduce energy use and energy efficiency measures refer to technological upgrades that reduce energy use.
It won’t surprise anyone that heat is the largest energy expenditure in almost every Alaska home.
Weatherization refers to conservation and efficiency measures specifically aimed at keeping homes dry and at a comfortable temperature with less energy.
How do I begin?
Improving the efficiency of your home could include larger projects that you’ll need a contractor or specialized skills to accomplish, new equipment like a heat pump, and smaller projects you can take on yourself. You can get a basic idea of what projects your home might need using this checklist from Alaska Energy Smart. There are currently active tax credits and an upcoming income dependent rebate program that can help with purchasing new appliances, adding insulation to attics and basements, and taking on other larger projects. Details on the rebates, tax credits, and DIY are below.
Weatherization and Efficiency Webinar
The Inflation Reduction Act allocated significant funds to help folks weatherize and electrify their homes. The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation will administer the program in Alaska.
The timeline is not set in stone, but ideally funding will become available in the late spring or early summer of 2024.
The rebates will only be available to folks who fall below a certain household income. The largest rebates will be available to households that make less than 80% of the area median income. Smaller rebates will be available to households that make between 80% and 150% of the area median income. You can check the area median income for your borough here.
Frequently asked questions about the rebate programs
What point of sale rebates will be available?
- Households at 80% or less of area median income are eligible for either the full cost of the appliance or 100% of the rebate listed below, whichever is less.
- Households at 80-150% of area median income are eligible for up to 50% of the cost of the appliance or the rebate listed below, whichever is less.
- Households above 150% of the median income won’t be eligible for rebates, but will be eligible for tax credits, see above.
- Home electrification and appliance rebates are capped at $14,000 per household.
- Heat Pump Heating/Cooling $8000
- Heat Pump Water Heaters $1750
- Heat Pump Clothes Dryers $840
- Electric Load Service Center upgrades/Breaker box (this needs to be updated in some homes when more appliances are electric) $4000
- Electric Wiring (this also sometimes needs an update for compatibility with new electric appliances) $2500
- Weatherization: Insulation, Air Sealing, Ventilation (makes your heat pump far more efficient and more viable) $1600
- Electric Stove, Cooktop, Range, and or oven (nothing to do with your heat pump, but goes into your rebate cap) $840
What about the Home Efficiency Rebate Program?
Folks will also be able to receive rebates for improving the overall efficiency of their home.
The largest rebates go to those who’s retrofits lead to energy savings of more than 35%. Low Median Income (LMI) households can get either 80% of their projects covered or a max of $8000. Other households can get 50% covered or a max of $4000.
Rebates are also available to folks whose projects save between 20% and 35%. LMI households can get 80% of costs covered or $4000 and other households can get 50% covered or $2000 max.
These start with an auditor coming to your home to determine which projects will improve your efficiency. Energy raters will be approved by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to use the AKWarm Energy Modeling Software, and after completing a review of your home, will give you a list of your options.
There is no income cap on this program. However, if you get a point of sale rebate for an appliance, it can’t go into your efficiency improvements under this program- no double dipping. These are not point of sale– rebates will be given during the following tax cycle.
What information will my home energy rater give me?
Here is a sample of a Home Energy Rating Certificate. The certificate covers a broad summary, specific features, and which projects will have the biggest impact on your energy use.
Are apartment buildings or duplexes eligible?
Multifamily homes are also eligible for the home efficiency rebates, and the rebates are the same, but multiplied by the number of dwellings.
Where will more information be available when the program goes live?
If you exceed the income requirements for the rebate programs or want to get started right away, there are tax credits for efficiency, weatherization and clean energy improvements as well.
What can I do myself right now?
Get your settings right
- Every degree you turn your thermostat down will save you 2% on your heating bill.
- 60-68°F is appropriate for many homes when you’re awake and home.
- Turn your heat down by about 10°F when you’re sleeping and away from your home. Bigger fluctuations are less efficient, and this isn’t recommended for homes using heat pumps or radiant floor heating.
- Using a programmable thermostat takes the labor out of it, and allows you to come home to and wake up to a warm house. There are smart versions that communicate with your phone and models that just sit on your wall, but can be programmed.
- Your thermostat will work best when it’s located in a central, non-drafty, shaded part of your house without furniture below or in front of it.
- Turn your hot water heater down to 120°F. Any hotter is a waste of energy, will increase your utility bills, and can cause scalding.
- You can find instructions to turn your hot water heater down in the owner’s manual or by searching the model instructions online. It will take about two hours for the water temperature to reach the new setting.
- Sometimes hot water heaters aren’t calibrated properly. You can double check by turning your faucet on hot for a few minutes and using a kitchen thermometer in a freshly poured glass.
Refrigerators and Freezers
- 36-40°F will keep your food from going bad without wasting energy in your fridge.
- 0-5°F is suitable for your freezer.
Where are the most common locations for drafts?
- Window and door frames
- Outlets and switches
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic Hatches
- Pet Doors
- Cable tv and phone line entry points
How do I find drafts?
You can purchase a draft detector from a hardware store or use more make-do methods. A common strategy is to put incense or a lit candle near potential drafts– the smoke or flicker will indicate whether there is air flow. Obviously, be careful when carrying flames around your home. At night you can use a flashlight on either side of a potential leak- if light makes it through, drafts will as well.
How do I seal leaks?
- Caulk (cracks less than 1/4 inch)
- Spray Foam (cracks between 1/4-3 inches)
- Draft stoppers or weatherstripping (door frames)
- Aluminum tape (leaky ducts)
- Outlet gasket/socket Sealers (outlets)
- Switch Sealers (switches)
There are plenty of videos demoing how to use these tools online. Make sure to read all safety warnings and instructions before beginning. Spray foam is probably the trickiest, so it’s worth reviewing a few videos before beginning to ensure you get a good result the first time.
Airflow isn’t all bad, and there are a few things to be cautious about when you tighten up your home.
- Mold can develop if there is moisture build-up. Read and follow all instructions, keep an eye out for moisture build-up, and tackle any mold issues right away.
- When your home is tighter, carbon monoxide can build up faster if there is a leak. Double check that you have up to date detectors in all relevant rooms and they are in proper working condition.
- Window Insulation Kits- these attach to the frame of your window, creating a few inches of airspace, which acts as an excellent barrier.
- Thick curtains- these are good for covering glass doors or when it’s dark outside anyway. You can also use curtains to block off entryways and mudrooms to avoid drafts when someone opens the door.
- You can get insulation specifically for your pipes. This will help keep water warm while moving from your hot water tank to your faucet, so you really can keep your tank at 120°F and will also give you a little breathing room during power outages.
- Low flow faucets and showerheads will save you water and save you energy heating your water.
Installing LED light bulbs will reduce your electricity use. This is especially important for nightlights and exterior security lights that stay on for long periods of time.
Habits take time to develop, so pick a couple to work on, get them down, then you can start adding more.
Heat your body, not your house
- Sweaters, bathrobes, house slippers, and blankets can all help you feel cozy in your home even when you keep it at a lower temperature.
- Hot water bottles are a great way to make sure your bed is warm when you first get in, even if the rest of your house is at a cooler temperature.
- Wash your laundry in cold water. Most detergents work just fine in cold water and it can help your clothes last longer. The only items that need to be washed in hot water are particularly dirty items like cloth diapers.
- Reduce dryer time.
- Hang dry some of your loads of laundry
- Sometimes adding an extra spin cycle to your wash can ring out more water, reducing the time necessary to dry your clothes
- Adding a dry towel to your dryer full of wet clothes can reduce drying time.
- Avoid overdrying your clothes. Figure out how much time it actually takes for your clothes to dry, and avoid running the cycle longer than that.
- Keep your dryer vents clean– both the one in your dryer, and where your dryer vents out of your home. This will help your clothes dry more quickly and reduce the fire hazard.
Keep your heating system clean
- Make sure your heating appliances stay clean and check filters monthly. This will help ensure they cycle efficiently and improve your indoor air quality.
- Run your dishwasher only when it’s full.
- Match the cooking to the meal.
- Ovens use a lot of energy, so maximize them when they’re on. For instance, roast veggies for multiple nights rather than just one night at a time. In meal planning, you could put the baked casserole on the same night as the baked dessert.
- When you are making smaller quantities of food, use your stove top or if you have a toaster oven, airfryer, etc- make use of those appliances.
Stop the vampires
10-20% of people’s electrical bill comes from devices pulling energy when people aren’t using them.
- The culprits include phones, DVD players, anything that can be turned on via remote or voice, standby coffee makers, video game consoles, cable/satellite boxes, devices with standby light or clock, etc.
- Anything with a transformer or big block plug likely pulls energy when it’s not in use.
Remember: The cheapest and lowest carbon fuel is the fuel you never have to use!Colleen Fisk
Energy Education Director, Renewable Energy Alaska Project
Ask your state lawmakers to support a renewable energy portfolio standard
Ask your lawmakers to ensure that electric utilities add more renewable energy into their mix.
State Director, Alaska Environment Research & Policy Center
Dyani runs campaigns to promote clean air, clean water, and open spaces in Alaska. She lives in Anchorage and loves to hike, ski and cook yummy food.