Even before home energy costs began spiking this winter, David Moon had faced eye-popping bills to keep his Westchester, New York, house warm as his monthly heating oil tab approached $1,000.
“It was a huge sticker shock for me,” says Moon, who had bought his 4,400-square-foot home in 2019 after relocating from Nevada.
This winter, he didn’t sweat his energy use, even though oil prices hit a seven-year high in early February and have now climbed above $100 a barrel following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That’s because in August, Moon completed a project that experts say is one of the most effective – if mundane – ways to lower high energy costs and cut a home’s greenhouse-gas emissions: Plugging holes and insulating walls and attics. He also replaced a boiler with four highly efficient electric heat pumps that extract warmth from the outside air and circulate it through the home.
While his electricity bill has doubled most months, Moon says his overall energy costs have fallen as much as 60 percent. “The house is definitely more comfortable, and not drafty, and that alone was worth it,” he says. “These days oil prices are pretty brutal, so it’s nice not to worry about that.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration has forecast that heating oil expenditures will be 43 percent higher this winter than the last. On the West Coast, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. has warned its California customers to expect higher bills as it passes on a 90 percent jump in natural gas prices. And that was before the war in Ukraine pushed oil and gas prices even higher.
Still, weatherizing a home can be a hard sell, according to Jeffery Liang, a project manager for BayREN, a Northern California clearinghouse for information on contractors and rebates for home energy efficiency improvements.
“Insulation is not very sexy,” he says.
Unlike the green bragging rights that come with buying a Tesla or installing solar panels, neighbors are unlikely to wander over to admire your newly air-tight attic. And while you can easily buy an electric car online, weatherization can involve navigating a welter of auditors, contractors and rebates.
But after a couple of hair-raising utility bills this winter, I decided it was time to get an energy audit of my charming but chilly 1928 home in Berkeley, California. They don’t come cheap, though; I received quotes for as much as $925 for a comprehensive evaluation.
The auditor I chose was thorough. She spent more than three hours mapping the house and gauging heat loss by imaging walls and ceilings with an infrared device plugged into her iPhone. The auditor also inspected the attic, crawlspace, furnace and ductwork and identified holes and gaps …….