By Daniel Axelrod
December 14, 2018
TUSTEN – There was only one place for Brian Mendoza and his wife, Susan, to move from Park Slope, Brooklyn, and Sullivan County was the charm.
The Mendozas first bought their 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom Cape Cod-style home in the Town of Tusten as a second home five years ago.
Smitten with the bucolic setting, the couple and their three teenage boys now live full time on their 12-acre spread full of goats, sheep, chickens, cats and dogs. But while they can keep most of the animals out of their 30-year-old home, they can’t keep out a chilly draft.
Mendoza is just the sort of homeowner the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s staff members are trying to reach. The department recently expanded state grants and rebates to increase the use of weatherization programs and geothermal and air pump heat.
When it comes to heating and cooling improvements, “the biggest obstacle is cost,” said Donovan Gordon, NYSERDA’s director of clean heating and cooling. Such improvements “can be expensive, but that’s why the federal tax credits, the rebates and the access to loans make it more affordable to do these things,” Gordon said.
This year, NYSERDA also is promoting its new Clean Heating and Cooling Communities campaign, partnering with New York nonprofits, including environmental advocacy organizations.
The nonprofits work with consumers like Mendoza to weatherize homes and install energy-efficient heat pumps. Mendoza recently took advantage of NYSERDA’s weatherization program.
And state incentives are available for energy-efficiency improvements, such as insulation and air-sealing. Locals of all incomes can apply with two state-designated “HeatSmart” organizations for free or discounted home energy assessments. Such groups help consumers complete NYSERDA applications for affordable loans to pay for home weatherization improvements.
Locally, HeatSmart Ulster-Sullivan, a collaboration between the nonprofits Catskill Mountainkeeper and Sustainable Hudson Valley, is connecting Ulster and Sullivan counties’ residents with vetted contractors to make improvements. In Orange County, the Energy Improvement Corporation of Yorktown Heights is running the HeatSmart-Cool Orange County campaign.
Contractors vetted by the nonprofits perform free or greatly reduced home energy efficiency and use assessments, and let residents know what improvements their residences need.
The local nonprofits’ representatives also connect home occupants to installation discounts for new heating systems, financing for the improvements, or special NYSERDA loans. Qualified applicants can repay the state loans in different ways, including with the savings from utility bills.
“Generally, the energy savings are very good, especially in an old drafty house,” said Sam Wright, a Catskill Mountainkeeper program associate. “Even if something unforeseen happens, like some beavers destroying your basement, you’ll still get a ton of energy savings.”
Besides those programs, the state-funded, county-run Home Energy Assistance Program – available via online applications at https://tinyurl.com/y8ktyzvg – can help locals warm their residences. And local nonprofits like RECAP, in Orange County, offer weatherization programs and help paying for energy bills for those who earn incomes above the federal poverty level.
Such programs should be especially helpful this winter, with the federal government projecting the average home heating bill will rise 3 percent for homes using electricity, 5 percent for natural gas and 20 percent for oil compared with last year. Propane costs are not expected to increase. The average U.S. household will spend $1,646 for heating oil and $1,181 for electricity from October to March, while typical natural gas and propane users will respectively spend $644 and $1,528.
Despite all the state’s home heating and cooling programs, most people don’t have energy efficiency at the top of their minds, Mendoza said.
“If you’re going to do an extension or a renovation, you think about all the things you can do to be more efficient, but, once you’re not doing those things, people forget about all the opportunities,” Mendoza added.
State officials and local utility operators offer a number of tips to heat homes efficiently, including:
• setting the thermostat as low as possible during the day, and five to 10 degrees colder at night, and ensuring the thermostat is unaffected by cold drafts or direct heat sources such as a fireplace.
• insulating the home and attic well, checking that heat sources aren’t blocked, and maintaining home heating systems.
• keeping open the curtains or shades of east-, south- and- west-facing windows on sunny winter days, closing them at night, and leaving draperies closed all day on north-facing windows.
• using state incentives for improvements such as air-pump and ground-source heating systems. Discounts cover 50 percent of eligible energy efficiency improvements of up to $4,000 per project for single-family homes. Two- and- four-unit residential homes with income-eligible residents may qualify for a discount of up to $8,000. Plus, low-interest loans are also available through the state to help cover the remainder of the costs to switch to air pumps.