State or local governments have traditionally taken the lead when it comes to implementing energy efficiency programs for homeowners. Building codes, new construction incentives, home energy ratings, land use ordinances and energy efficient mortgages are decided upon and implemented by state and local governments to help curb the collective energy use of its residents.
Even in Maine where the Efficiency Maine program has been the subject of much controversy, programs administered by quasi-governmental agencies are very popular.
Meanwhile, the conversation in Washington, DC has largely leaned towards topics such as the Keystone XL Pipeline and high-level goals regulating efficiency in industry. While not unheard of, Congress has rarely had the opportunity to narrow the focus to the specific needs of homeowners and landlords in the debate.
While the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reports that residential and commercial (excluding agricultural and industrial) greenhouse gas emissions only make up 12% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas output pie, that’s still 817 million metric tons of CO2. To put that into perspective, 1 million metric tons is roughly equivalent to the same physical mass as one million small cars. So, that’s the mass of 817 million Toyota Corollas worth of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere every year by houses, apartment buildings, stores and restaurants.
A Bill in the Right Direction
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, have been working for years on bipartisan energy efficiency legislation. This April, they celebrated a significant victory with the passing of a bill that would create a voluntary program for landlords and tenants to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings, mandate that large electric water heaters be run in a highly energy-efficient manner and require federal agencies to perform energy-use assessments on commercial buildings that they lease.
United States Environmental Protection Agency sign on the Clinton building
The Department of Energy’s National Appliance Energy Conservation Act is a small slice of the broader energy efficiency measures that the senators have been hammering at since 2011, but both Senators Shaheen and Portman are pleased with the recent victory and see it as a large step in the right direction.
“On the bill’s merits — creating jobs, saving consumers money and reducing pollution — it was never a hard sell,” Ms. Shaheen said. “The tough part was convincing Washington to not play politics with a good idea.”
Mr. Portman said, “Our targeted energy efficiency bill has garnered widespread support because of a simple fact: It is good for the economy and good for the environment.”
From recent coverage in the New York Times
Partisan gridlock will surely continue to play a role in the debate over Senators Portman and Shaheen’s broader goals, but for the time being this move is being celebrated by both parties.
What Does This Mean for Homeowners?
Starting in April, all newly manufactured water heaters have to be more efficient. Homeowners will see higher energy ratings on all residential gas, electric and tankless water heaters. The goal is to cut down on emissions and save billions of dollars in energy costs.
A residential water heater is the second largest consumer of energy in the home, right behind your heating and cooling system. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, heating water accounts for about 18 percent of energy consumption in households. Any improvement to a water heater’s efficiency is going to pay dividends in monthly utility bills, but the upfront cost will be up to 35% more expensive. Also, plan for a slightly larger tank in your basement, as the new and more efficient models are larger.
Tankless or even solar water heaters are also an option for those who don’t want to make room for the bulkier new appliances. Tankless heaters don’t have water storage containers, but instead heat water on demand, so hot water never runs out. Because they are already more efficient than heaters that use tanks, the new standards do not apply but they cost about three times more than regular heaters. Along with the monthly savings on your bill, tankless heaters last about three times longer than the average 8 to 10 year lifetime of heaters that use tanks.
The U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR Program is a great resource for homeowners to better understand where to find building and lifestyle inefficiencies and the products and incentives available to increase the efficiency of their home. ENERGY STAR was established by the EPA in 1992, and consumers can find a multitude of resources on the program’s website to help them navigate product choices and practices to help make their home or business more efficient. It also provides information about state and federal incentives to help push us all to more energy efficient choices.
As Senators Shaheen and Portman work to hammer home more federal legislation to increase energy efficiency both on an industrial level and at home, tools are available to make smarter and more efficient decisions for our homes and businesses. It’s better for the wallet and the environment.