United Cooperative Services was established with the sole purpose of providing exceptional service to the member-owners of the cooperative. As a pillar of this commitment, United’s team of energy solution experts each year evaluates and recommends energy efficiency rebates that offer the most potential for improving residential energy conservation. These rebates are geared to aid members who want to better manage their residential energy consumption—or who simply want to waste less energy. And while United’s rebate portfolio has always offered efficiency conscious members a full package of financial incentives for a variety of improvements to the residential energy envelope, the cooperative this year has pushed the limits of those incentives even further.
The cooperative’s team of energy experts have combed the market extensively to find new or enhanced energy-saving solutions, which are then considered for incorporation in the cooperative’s rebate program. But technological advancements aren’t always the means to an end. Homeowners first need to understand where and how conventional energy losses occur in a home, and which factors contribute the most to energy usage.
One area homeowners may not realize makes up a significant portion of their energy consumption is water heating. In a typical residence, an electric water heater is usually the second largest electric consumer in the home. Heat pump water heaters are twice as efficient as standard electric water heaters, but they are also more expensive. If members upgrade to a heat pump water heater, they can receive a rebate for $150. This incentive was increased this year to help defray the initial purchase cost for a heat pump water heater. To qualify for this rebate, the heat pump water heater must be at least 40 gallons and reach a minimum energy factor of 2.0.
Heating and cooling the home is estimated to account for more than 50 percent of the overall energy consumption in a standard residence.
As has been reported many times before, one of the easiest and most effective ways to manage heating and air-conditioning energy consumption is through thermostat settings. United recommends thermostat settings of 68 degrees or lower in the winter, and 78 degrees or higher in the summer. Each degree above 68 or below 78 can increase your usage anywhere from 5-10 percent. Due to this fact, United offers a $50 rebate for homeowners who upgrade their thermostat to a Wi-Fi enabled learning thermostat, or a Smart Thermostat.
Smart thermostats go beyond just being Wi-Fi enabled and programmable. These thermostats save energy by learning occupant lifestyle and behavior in the home, adjusting settings automatically when it is sensed the home is not occupied, or when household traffic is idled by occupant sleep routines. Through United’s extensive research in the market of Smart thermostats, only three thermostats have met United’s technical criteria for consideration as a learning thermostat. Those three thermostats are the Honeywell Lyric, the Lennox iComforts30 and the Google Nest.
In another new facet of United’s Energy Solutions program, the co-op has also partnered with Nest Labs to offer financial incentives for members who are willing to help lower United’s overall demand for power during peak usage periods (when wholesale power costs are generally at their highest levels) , through United’s Rush Hour Rewards Program. United offers up to $110 in bill credits during the first full year of participation of the program. United’s peaks in power usage have traditionally occurred between June and September, from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. This is usually the hottest part of the year and the hottest part of the day for North Texans, and it’s also the time everyone is coming home from work and dialing down air-conditioning system settings. The extra load or demand for electricity that is called for during these periods creates a strain on the electric grid, and members who take part in this program help the cooperative shift demand for electricity to a less-costly period by allowing Nest to first pre-cool the home before adjusting the thermostat setting up three degrees during these peak times. In return for their participation, members can earn a onetime $50 bill credit just for signing up for the program, as well as $15 for each month participants allow the thermostat to be adjusted. If a member qualifies for the Smart thermostat rebate and also participates in the Rush Hour Rewards Program, they could pay for the cost of a Nest thermostat within three years through the above incentives alone. And beyond those savings, homeowners who have Nest Learning Thermostats will continue to reap the advantages of the enhanced technology for many years to come.
One of the least glamorous, but most dynamic means for obtaining higher residential energy efficiency is through adequate insulation. It’s out of sight and therefore mostly out of mind, but the attic is one of the most overlooked energy-saving hot spots in the home. United recommends an insulation R-value of 38. This R-value can be achieved by installing any of the following insulation amounts: 16 inches of blown fiberglass, 10 inches of blown cellulose, (2) 6-inch fiberglass batts, or approximately 5.5 inches of spray foam. The insulation retrofit rebate will pay 2 cents per inch, per square-foot installed—up to a maximum depth of 12 inches. Members should keep in mind, however, that the existing insulation must be less than eight inches to qualify, and must first be inspected by one of United’s Energy Solution experts for approval. Once the auditor has confirmed that the current insulation level is 8 inches or less, he then will subtract the current insulation level in inches from the maximum depth of 12 inches to determine how many eligible inches United will use for the rebate calculation.
On a smaller scope, the most popular rebate that United offers is the HVAC tune up. To assist members in confirming their HVAC system is working properly, United offers members up to $100 per unit per year to have an HVAC system tune-up conducted. A typical HVAC tune-up consists of checking and correcting the unit’s refrigerant pressure and tubing, checking and adjusting belt tension, cleaning and lubricating the indoor blower unit, replacing filters, cleaning inside the “A”Coil, and checking the thermostat wiring, and other electric parts. This preventative maintenance can increase the life expectancy of an HVAC unit, as well as increase its energy efficiency.
Another important rebate that United offers is for air source or ground source heat pumps. For air source heat pumps United offers a rebate based on the SEER rating. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The rebate will offer $100 for 15 SEER, $200 for 16 SEER, $300 for 17 SEER, $400 for 18 SEER, and $500 for 19 SEER and above. An additional $75 will be added to the total amount of this rebate if the HVAC system is a dual fuel system. Members who install a ground source heat pump, also known as a geothermal unit, can receive a rebate of $200 per ton of the unit installed. To qualify for this rebate the geothermal heat pump must reach a minimum Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 11.0.