- TESTING, TESTING: A worker prepares for "blower door" test.
While you might be waiting on the hot, lazy days of summer with breathless anticipation, one thing you might not be looking forward to is the higher energy bill that comes with the sweltering season. Entergy Arkansas, however, might have a solution for some of those summertime blues: a program that gives rebates and incentives to homeowners looking to make their homes more energy efficient. In some cases, subcontractors working in partnership with Entergy can inspect a home and do thousands in energy-saving repairs like weather stripping, caulking and ductwork repair at no cost to the homeowner. As a bonus, those repairs can save you thousands more on your energy bill in the long run.
The Home Energy Solutions program is the flagship of a slate of energy-efficiency programs offered by Entergy. Any Entergy customer living in a home or multi-family unit of four apartments or less that has central heat and air is eligible to have their home inspected and possibly repaired if problems are found. The program is offered in two tiers. Tier one includes a walk-through inspection of appliances, weather sealing and other potential drains on the power grid by a home energy consultant, with recommendations on what to do. A list of approved consultants is available on the Entergy website, and the company will pay for up to $75 toward the cost of this inspection.
Tier two is more thorough, and can send workers crawling into attics and crawlspaces to inspect ductwork and insulation, or a "blower door test" in which a large suction fan is attached to an exterior door to create negative pressure inside the house. The amount of air loss in the home can then be calculated by how much air flows into the blower.
Entergy offers a minimum of $300 and up to $500 in cash incentives toward the cost of the tier two inspection and testing, and then offers additional incentives to fix problems. If the homeowner selects a contractor who can both inspect the home and do the work, most repairs can be done with zero cash outlay by the homeowner.
According to an Entergy spokesperson, 10,725 customers have taken advantage of at least part of Home Energy Solutions program since 2010. A chart on the Entergy website says that the owner of a typical 1,900-square-foot home is eligible for up to $3,537.92 in energy-efficiency rebates and repairs from Entergy, and could save $550 a year on their electric bill and another $635 on their gas bill each year after those repairs are performed.
Richard Smith is the manager for Energy Efficiency at Entergy. He said the program seeks to help homeowners take a "whole house approach" to energy loss. Smith said the Home Energy Solutions program was started on a limited basis in 2007, but was redesigned in 2011 and has been available for all residential customers in the Entergy service area since early 2012. Smith said the program is not paid for by the federal government. "These are programs that are approved and reviewed and vetted through the Arkansas Public Service Commission," he said. "We cover the cost of these programs through our monthly electric bill."
Smith said homeowners should divide their year's highest electric bill by the square footage of the heated and cooled portion of their home. If the energy usage is more than .10 cents per square foot, then their home qualifies for a tier two assessment, and could probably benefit from inspection and repair. Homes with energy usage of more than .13 cents per square foot are considered "very inefficient."
Though the cost of repairs is substantial, Smith said Entergy saves money by helping customers become more energy efficient. "These programs are less costly than us building another power plant," he said. "That's what we're trying to avoid. If all of our customers can help us avoid that new power plant, and it's cheaper to do this, that seems like the smart thing to do."
One caveat to keep in mind — unless you don't mind watching the mail for a reimbursement check — is that some contractors working with Entergy do inspections and repairs on a reimbursement model, with the customer paying up front and waiting for a reimbursement check from Entergy. Others do the inspections and repairs and then bill Entergy directly, meaning no cash outlay for the customer.
"They're looking at it, from their business model, a little bit like: Well, I get money from the incentives [and] for the assessment, and if all those come into play, I can deliver services a lot of the time at little or no cost to the customer," Smith said. "Other models don't do it that way. We have home energy professionals who don't have the whole approach. They can test for you, but they don't have the capability to do the installation work. In that case, it's a little different. The customer pays for those and as things happen, we reimburse the customer."
Smith said that the repairs done by Entergy subcontractors since the program started have taught them things about energy loss. In his own home, Smith said, he learned that his walls sit on a shiplap lumber subfloor, allowing air to seep out everywhere there was a crack between boards. In some homes, tiny gaps and cracks can add up to the equivalent of having a small window open all the time, winter and summer.
"We have learned throughout the last three or four years that ducts are somewhere on the average of 25 to 30 percent leaky," Smith said, "with some being totally disconnected and blowing into attics." Once the ductwork is sorted out and that cooling and heating is going where it's supposed to go, Smith said, homeowners can start thinking about resizing their AC unit. Entergy offers incentives and rebates for replacing inefficient AC units as well.
Rett Peek, who lives in a home in Hillcrest built in 1928, took advantage of the Home Energy Solutions program, and was able to have his house inspected and made more energy efficient with no cash outlay or waiting for a reimbursement check. The subcontractor on Peek's home was I.Q. Energy, a Texas company working with Entergy. Peek said he e-mailed I.Q. Energy on a Sunday, and was able to get the energy inspection done on the following Wednesday. Peek said that after the inspection, workers wrapped all the duct-work in his attic and basement, wrapped all hot water pipes, put a jacket on his hot-water heater, did extensive caulking of holes and ductwork, weatherstripped all the doors to the outside and to the basement, and filled holes where pipes came through the subfloor. The contractor billed Entergy directly, with all the work done at no cost to Peek.
"They did tons of stuff like that," Peek said. "They were here a little over three hours pretty much wrapping, caulking and spray-foaming to seal up all the little holes." Peek said the workers told him they would have given him a coupon to put toward more insulation, but he didn't need it. He believes all the work will lead to lower energy bills.
"I saw the meter readings they were doing before and after," he said. "I won't act like I know what the numbers meant, but afterwards they were a lot lower and they said I should save between 25 and 40 percent on energy consumption."
For more information on the Home Energy Solutions program, visit Entergy Arkansas's Home Entergy Solutions page. A PDF copy of the Home Energy Solutions program manual can be found at: tinyurl.com/c859doo.