The familiar saying that there are only two seasons in Chicago—winter and construction—generally applies to roads. But it could also apply to home improvement. As soon as the thermometer reads 60 degrees, it’s not uncommon to see a parade of contractor trucks start pulling up to residences all over the city. But are Chicagoans making the smartest investments?
Not if they are getting new windows, says Dan Olson, senior energy efficiency planner for Energy Impact Illinois, an alliance between ComEd, Nicor Gas, the City of Chicago and others designed to help Illinois residents lower their energy costs.
“Many people think that replacing their old windows is the best way to make their home efficient, but the truth is, to get the most bang for their buck, people should be air-sealing and insulating their walls and attics,” Olson says. “With the money they save on heating and cooling, they’ll be able to afford new windows.”
Olson’s organization is on a mission to educate Chicagoans about energy efficiency in their homes—and offering some pretty serious cash incentives for those who are willing to make changes. Before you spend your money this spring, be informed on how you can stretch your dollar with this and other energy-efficient programs throughout Chicago.
To try to get the savings Olson is talking about, contact Energy Impact Illinois to have an auditor come to your house to inspect it for inadequate insulation, insufficient air sealing (such as spaces around recessed or can lighting, or gaps around the site where a utility line comes into a home), and more. (There’s typically a $99 charge.)
You’ll then be put in touch with a vetted contractor (certified by the Building Performance Institute). If you work with one of these contractors, you will be eligible for a rebate of 70 percent (up to $1,750) on the improvements. On average, improvements made through the program hover around $2,500, says Olson. And, if you host an energy assessment house party (inviting at least five guests to observe the auditor as he pokes and prods your home), Energy Impact Illinois will likely even waive the $99 fee.
Utility companies have all sorts of deals for their customers. At ComEd, these range from getting your old fridge or freezer picked up for free (and, for a limited time, getting $50 for it) to getting discounts at participating retail stores on CFL bulbs (the corkscrew ones) and $75 rebates on ENERGY STAR-qualified washing machines. Bigger-ticket improvements, such as replacing your air conditioner and furnace with more efficient models, can also lead to rebates ranging from $200 to $1,000 from ComEd, and also through Nicor’s energy efficiency program. (These offers change frequently, so check with your utility company to find out if you are eligible.) The Energy Impact Illinois website also keeps a list of utility companies offering energy-efficiency rebates, incentives and loans.
If your home is without a water meter, you are likely being charged for water based on factors such as the size of your building or the number of plumbing fixtures it has. Those with meters are only charged for the amount of water they use, which is a great incentive to getting a water meter installed. By becoming aware of how much water you’re actually using, you can enact small measures that can save you on your water bill over the long term.
One way to get a water meter installed? The City of Chicago Department of Water Management’s MeterSave program, which offers non-metered customers a free water meter installation. The units are high-tech, wirelessly transmitting readings from the meter to DWM trucks as they drive by. Program participants get a seven-year guarantee that their water bill will be no higher than if the meter had not been installed.
The Historic Chicago Bungalow Association offers eligible members energy-efficiency grants to replace their old appliances with with new ENERGY STAR-rated ones. To qualify, homeowners must be ComEd customers, their household income must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income (about $58,900 for a household of four), and the appliances must be at least eight years old, among other factors. A similar grant is in place for free air-sealing and attic insulation, with similar qualifying requirements in place. It’s worth a check to see if you might be eligible.
A little research and bit of legwork can go a long way to saving household energy, reducing your bills and giving you peace of mind that you’re putting less of a strain on our precious energy resources.