Report Details How the Inflation Reduction Act Will Transform the Building Sector

One of the best analyses of the impact of the IRA on sustainability and the mitigation of climate change was released on Aug. 31st by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Below is a graphic from that report summarizing the IRA’s biggest direct impacts. Click here to view the full report.

As reported by Fast Company, the report “finds that the IRA’s main rebates and tax credits could bring electrification and energy-efficiency upgrades to millions of homes. In total, the bill’s new rebates and expansions of existing tax credits will create more than $23 billion in funding to electrify homes, upgrade heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment, and develop entirely new buildings that meet the highest federal standards for efficient energy use.” The IRA provides funds or rebates for:

Electric heat pumps that can both heat and cool your home, which the Department of Energy estimates will save families $500 to $1,000 every year. There’s a rebate of up to $14,000 for installing them.

Induction cooktops, which replace dangerous and health-harming gas stoves that contribute to asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Insulation, windows, doors, and sealing ductwork, which will ensure a home’s heating and cooling systems don’t have to work as hard to keep families comfortable.

Upgraded electrical panels and wiring for homes that have older electrical service.

The tax credits provided for in the IRA are available immediately, but the rebate program will take some time to be implemented, since it requires the creation of rules and forms.

My Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home  

This column is adapted from my July 18, 2019, column on this topic.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we did when we purchased our current home was to pay for an energy audit to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. One result of that test was to blow additional cellulose insulation into walls and ceilings and to caulk around windows. We considered installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home using a heat exchanger that warms outside air in the winter and cools outside air in the summer. Instead we installed a fan in our powder room that runs 24/7 at a very low volume, but higher when occupied.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, with sun tunnels. Rita and I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a Velux sun tunnel in our garage and another one in our laundry room. (He installed four more at Golden Real Estate.)

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb in our home with LEDs which are “daylight” color.

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. Since everyone will be driving an electric car eventually, install as much solar PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install mountable curbs the entire length of residential streets, because they can’t know where each driveway will be. One of the first things we did at our home was to remove the mountable curb in front of our driveway.  It cost about $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but we love it every time we enter from the street!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump or hybrid furnace. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I recommend buying a heat-pump water heater. We bought a 50-gallon Rheem unit for $1,200, but it came with a $400 rebate. Once you’ve replaced both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. 

Other improvements I’d recommend: Replacing any bathroom carpeting with ceramic or porcelain tile; replacing regular double-pane windows with Low-E windows on south-facing windows; replacing fluorescent fixtures (as we did in our garage) with flush-mount LED panels sold at Lowes for about $100.  Love ’em!

Some Favorite Home Improvements When Purchasing a New-to-Me Home

Who doesn’t want to make some improvements on a home they have just purchased?  Here are some of my personal favorites.

Energy efficiency is very important to Rita and me, so the first thing we do is pay for an energy audit by someone like Andrew Sams of Alpine Building Performance to identify opportunities for making the home more air-tight. This would likely include blowing more insulation into walls or ceilings and caulking around windows. It might also include installing an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring fresh air into the home. This device warms cold outside air in the winter and cools hot outside air in the summer by means of a heat exchanger.

I love bringing sunlight into a home, not with traditional skylights but with sun tunnels. Most people are familiar with the Solatube brand, but I prefer the Velux brand. I had Mark Lundquist of Design Skylights install a 22-inch Velux sun tunnel in my windowless garage and a 14-inch sun tunnel in my windowless laundry room — and four large Velux sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. Ah, sunlight!

Speaking of sunlight, we replaced every light bulb is our house with LEDs which are “daylight” color (like sunlight), not cool white or warm white. CFLs and incandescent bulbs are so 2010!

Installing solar photovoltaic panels is a no-brainer for us, especially now that the cost has dropped so much. Your roof doesn’t have to face due south. Southeast and southwest are good enough. (That’s our situation.) Since you might be driving an electric car someday, install as much PV as Xcel Energy allows to cover that future load.  If you have just purchased an EV, Xcel will allow you to install more panels based on anticipated future use.

Don’t you hate climbing a curb to enter your driveway? Developers install those mountable curbs the entire length of the streets in new subdivisions, not knowing exactly where each driveway will be. One of the first things I would do (and have done) is to hire a concrete company to replace the mountable curb with a smooth entrance. It cost over $2,000 for our 3-car-wide driveway, but I love it every time I enter from the street! Caution: the sidewalk will now be sloped slightly and pedestrians could more easily slip on ice, so be prepared to salt your sidewalk to eliminate icing!

When your gas forced air furnace needs replacing, consider replacing it with a heat-pump furnace or mini-splits. And when your gas water heater needs replacing, I suggest buying a heat-pump water heater. The cost is about the same, and, by converting to electricity for both, you will have eliminated the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.

Other improvements I’d consider include: Replacing carpeting with  tile in bathrooms; and replacing regular glass with Low-E glass on south-facing windows to reduce the harmful effects of sunlight on furniture, hardwood floors and artwork.

Sustainability Series Session #1: The Many Facets of Insulating a Home

This Thursday, January 17th, is the first of Golden Real Estate’s 6-part Sustainability Series. The topic this week is home insulation. Allow me to introduce the presenters and to share some of what I myself have learned from insulating my own homes and office, and from 17 years of selling homes and being active in the sustainability arena.

We have two great presenters at this month’s session. One is Steve Stevens, whose passion since retiring from Bell Labs has been the conversion of an energy-wasting 1970s brick ranch into a showpiece of sustainability through solar power, energy efficiency and super insulation. In addition to having insulation blown into his attic and walls, he had layers of poly-iso and structural insulated panels added to his exterior walls.  Then he went so far as to dig out and expose his home’s foundation walls so poly-iso insulation could be applied to them. He also constructed “air locks” on all entrances, and built a greenhouse on his south-facing exposure — both extremely effective insulating techniques.

Several years ago when Steve’s home was on the Golden Solar Tour, I shot a 40-minute video in which Steve described his home’s sustainability features — by far the longest of all the videos I have ever created for homes on that annual tour. A link to the video is at JimSmithColumns.com

The other presenter is Dennis Brachfield of About Saving Heat. I’ve known Dennis for over 25 years. His company insulated an office building I owned in Denver as well as a couple homes I have owned.  Dennis is bringing a blower door to this evening’s session in order to demonstrate its function. Using a fan to depressurize a home, a blower door helps to identify the location and extent of air leaks in a building.  Another tool Dennis will illustrate is an infrared camera. By pointing it toward ceilings and exterior walls, the camera shows the difference in surface temperatures, indicating areas that could benefit from air sealing and/or additional insulation. 

I’ll never forget the time 15 years ago when Dennis blew insulation into the exterior walls of a 1945 wood-frame bungalow I had purchased. The home’s gas forced-air furnace kept the ambient temperature at 70 degrees easily enough, but occupants still felt cold.  Dennis pointed out that even if there was insulation in the walls, voids surely existed, due to a combination of sub-par installation and years of settling. I was amazed at how much more comfortable the house was after having insulation blown in to fill all those voids. What I learned from that experience was that cold walls radiate coldness just as effectively as warm walls radiate warmth. Thus, a room with 70-degree air but cold walls feels cold in comparison to a room with the same air temperature but with walls that aren’t cold.

My current home was super-insulated by Bill Lucas-Brown of GB3 Energy.  I invited Bill to join us tonight, but he had a previous commitment. On www.GB3Energy.com, you can watch a Golden Solar Tour video I shot in which Bill describes his weatherization work, which included insulating the crawl space and the rim joist area. It’s very informative.

Here’s a simple way to determine how well insulated your home is.  When you go to bed on a cold winter night and turn your thermostat down — let’s say from 71 to 67 — look to see how quickly the home cools to that lower setting, triggering the furnace.  If it’s less than a couple of hours, you could probably benefit from improved insulation of your home. I’ve started turning our thermostat down an hour or more before bedtime and I’ve found that the temperature doesn’t drop enough to trigger the furnace until 3 a.m. or later.

When your home is that “tight” it’s important to ensure the introduction of enough fresh air to maintain good indoor air quality. For that, consider installing an “energy recovery ventilator,” or ERV. This device replaces a standard vent fan with a heat exchanger that warms incoming fresh air by extracting heat from the interior air that is being exhausted.

The ERV’s function will be explained in our session — or you can Google “energy recovery ventilation.”