Energy Upgrade California—Up Close and Personal Part 2

I am in San Diego for the Energy Out West conference (see photo), and I want to write about it, but while it is fresh in my mind I want to fill you in on my latest Energy Upgrade California experience first.

Before getting on a plane for San Diego, Bill Stewart of Stewart Heating and Air met with Michele and I at our home in Walnut Creek. Bill and his company are superstars in home performance around here. Stewart Heating and Air has been around for more than 40 years and until recently the company was a traditional HVAC company. But Bill is one of those business owners who is curious about his craft and keeps learning. He is BPI certified and thinks about a house as a system. And his company has done more than 300 retrofits through the Energy Upgrade California program.

Bill laid out our options and we were both surprised and pleased. I was surprised that, according to modeling, blowing insulation into our walls would lower our energy bill by 17%. This surprised me because we live somewhere between a hot dry climate and a marine climate. I tell people around here that your best option is to insulate your attic if you had to choose what to insulate. (Our attic is already well insulated.)

As I wrote before, Energy Upgrade gives rebates in two ways. You can pick from a set of individual measures or you can go for different levels of energy efficiency. We chose the later. Just having our walls insulated—and a projected energy savings of 17%—would bring us about $1,500 in rebates. So one option we are considering is:

  • Wall insulation
  • New ducts
  • Air sealing (which we would do ourselves)


The cost would be approximately $4,000 and we would get about $2,000 in rebates. We would also count on the wall insulation keeping the house cooler in the summer. Right now we have a damper system that brings in fresh air. It would need to be repaired, but we could keep our 24-year old, 60% efficient furnace to keep us warm in the winter and use the damper system to cool the house at night in the summer.

We explored the possibility of getting rid of the furnace and duct system all together and replacing it with a 2, 3, or 4 zone mini-split. That’s the ideal choice but it would be way too expensive for our budget. (Based on Bill’s experience, he estimated the cost would probably be more than $20,000.)

So no mini-split, but here is our other option:

  • Wall Insulation
  • Air sealing (again, we’d do it ourselves)
  • New ducts
  • Hybrid heat pump with a back-up gas furnace


That package would cost us about $15,000, but $4,500 of that would be offset by rebates, since it would get us a projected energy savings of 45%. And we have the option of financing some or all of that over 24 months, interest free. And we would be cool in the summer.



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