Temperatures are soaring, and so are our electric bills.But there are a number of low-cost ways to curb that cost by shoring up leaking doors, mounting solar screens or film on your windows and adding insulation.To help, Oncor — the utility that maintains power lines in North Texas — has just added $2.6 million in cash incentives for home owners to its Home Energy Efficiency program. The program, which started in March with $10.5 million, often runs out of money about now.“We’re hoping the new funding will go through the summer months,” said Jeamy Molina, spokeswoman for the North Texas electricity wholesaler. “It depends on how quickly our customers get on the site and register with a contractor.”The site, www.TakeaLoadOffTexas.com., lists 107 third-party contractors in the area under its service provider tab. Consumers in the Oncor service region can sort by zip code or the type of service they want done on the house, from air infiltration to window film.Incentives vary by the type of home you have (all electric or with gas) and the age of the house (which usually indicates old appliances and windows and less insulation). The more the efficiency upgrade can change your usage, the higher the incentives.Last week, Oncor also began its low-income weatherization program with $6.3 million in funding for 2013, Molina said. This program is free for those who qualify by income and performs most of the same work as the home energy efficiency program through third-party contractors and city weatherization programs. Additional measures include window air conditioners, showerheads and CFL bulbs.To qualify, household income must be at or below 200 percent of the poverty line, or $22,980 for an individual; $47,100 for a family of four. While central air conditioners will still cost several thousand dollars even with the incentives, there are a number of things that can be done to most homes for much less to lower those electric bills.“Most of the program goes towards attic insulation or duct sealing, along with windows and doors sealed,” Molina said. “With the incentive, people can afford to do these things and there’s a pretty big benefit.”Solar screens also are popular among customers, said Ricky Crouch, owner of ACT Home Energy Specialists in Fort Worth, one of the Oncor service providers.“You could get as much as 30 percent of the cost of the solar screens taken off with the incentive,” he said. Crouch recommends solar screens for the east and west windows of the house and said they can block as much as 90 percent of the radiant heat that usually hits the window, but still gives 50 percent visibility.Window film is another option. “Window film can stop up to 99 percent of ultraviolet energy from coming through your windows and up to 80 percent of the solar energy,” said Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association. “The Department of Energy says 30 percent to 40 percent of all energy usage to control is coming through your windows.”Window film installation costs between $60 and $150 per window before the incentive, Smith said. That compares favorably with an upgrade to Energy Star windows, which cost $250 or more per window.Window film and many of the other measures in the Oncor efficiency program also qualify for a federal tax credit of 10 percent of the cost, up to $500.Fixing duct work is one of the biggest problems encountered by Chris Runyan, owner of A Cooler House in Garland, another Oncor contractor that serves the Metroplex.“At least 75 percent of the houses we service are undersized for return air,” he said. “When it was done originally, it was not allocated properly. We typically can just add or redirect return air. It’s one of the least expensive easy things we can do.”Most of Runyan’s work this year through the Oncor program has been replacing air conditioner units, however, he said.Homeowners can receive 10 to 20 percent off the cost of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system under the program, Molina said, depending on the system it replaces and the energy saved with the new system. All HVAC systems must have a SEER rating of at least 16 to participate in the program.Runyan also regularly adds solar window screens to homes under the program, mostly on the west and south windows, he said.“It’s like sunglasses for the house,” he said. “Solar screens cool that room and stops the heat from penetrating the house.”Homeowner with skylights also should consider a skylight cover, which Runyan says his company makes on a custom basis. While not covered by the Oncor program, skylights can allow a lot of heat into the house. A custom cover costs between $100 and $300, he said.Take measures now to shore up your energy use and bring down those electric bills.Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net
Products covered by Oncor’s home energy efficiency rebates include air filtration, ceiling insulation, central air conditioner, central heat pump, duct improvement, Energy Star dishwasher, Energy Star refrigerator, Energy Star clothes washer, Energy Star windows, floor insulation, ground floor heat pump, solar domestic water heating improvement, solar screens, wall insulation, water heater jacket, water heater pipe insulation, water heater replacement (electric), water heater replacement (gas), window film.
Source: Oncor’s website, www.TakeaLoadOffTexas.com
Go to www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com, or call 866-728-3674 for information on the Home Energy Efficiency Incentive Program and a list of third-party local contractors that is sorted by zip code. Home owners must be in Oncor’s service territory
Contact at least three contractors and ask about pricing and services. Contractors are not required to pass the funding for the program to their customers, but most do. Find out if there is a fee to evaluate the home. Check contractor records with the Better Business Bureau.