The cost of solar panels is still roughly 50 percent subsidized. (Photo:Rodwin Architecture).

Scott rodwin Rodwin Architecture/ Skycastle Construction

Spring may almost be here, but you know we’ve still got plenty of cold weather ahead this year. If your house, condo or apartment is more than 20 years old, an energy efficiency upgrade remodel is likely a good investment. Rebates and incentives are still plentiful through local energy efficiency programs (i.e. EnergySmart and Xcel Energy utility programs), and equally as important as the bottom line, you will make your house more comfortable. Here’s how to make it easy:

1) Hire an Energy auditor: Go to for your one-stop shop for energy upgrades, and get a Boulder County subsidized Home Energy Assessment for just $185. EnergySmart will complete a Home Energy Assessment, then pair you with an expert Energy Advisor, who will:

• Install FREE energy and water-saving items (LED bulbs and water aerators)
• Provide and explain the Home Energy Assessment on your home’s energy use
• Help determine the most cost-effective home improvements
• Explain results from radon, carbon monoxide and natural gas leak testing (to help keep your household safe)
• Help you get and evaluate bids from qualified contractors
• Help you find and apply for rebates and financial incentives

2) Weatherization: On a typical home, stopping air-infiltration costs $3,000 to $4,000 and will pay for itself within just a few years. It also makes the home immediately more thermally comfortable, through simple caulking, sealing and weather-stripping.

3) Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs can have a significant reduction in both electricity and summer cooling costs. Their costs have been dropping fast, making them very cost effective. If you get the ones that are 2700 Kelvin, the color is nearly identical to incandescent bulbs, and LED’s can dim nearly all the way down like incandescent bulbs.

4) Insulation: if your house has an attic, there is often room to easily add more roof insulation at a reasonable cost. If the home is over 40 years old, it likely needs more insulation everywhere. Rebates are available.

5) Replace those open combustion 70 percent efficient furnaces with closed-combustion 80 percent to 96 percent efficient furnaces (which are also safer for indoor air quality). Or if you’re concerned about your carbon footprint and want to reduce your overall energy use, consider switching to an electric heat pump which provides both heating and cooling (Google “Comfort365”). There are rebates and they pay for themselves quickly.

6) Replace old water heaters: same deal as #5. If it’s not time to replace, wrap your storage tank and pipes in insulation to reduce standing losses. Solar thermal panels are still also a good idea and there are 26 percent Federal tax credits. If you have solar Photovoltaic, look into electric water heaters. Rebates available.

7) Replace the thermostat: Another easy and cheap change that helps make the house more comfortable and more accurately controlled.

8) Upgrade appliances: go to Energy Star™,, (you still have to read the label to see the predicted energy-use as there is a wide range of efficiency within the Energy Star options). The fridge is the biggest energy user. Rebates are available.

9) Replace windows: although among the most expensive of the upgrades ($8,000 to $80,000), if your windows are more than 40 years old, they should likely be replaced with Energy Star rated windows. Ideally you can also take this opportunity to choose a specific Solar Heat Gain Co-efficient (SHGC), for each window that can either block or accept the sun to improve the passive solar performance (and thermal comfort) of your home.

10) PV: the cost of PV or solar panels is still roughly 50 percent subsidized and there are programs that allow you to put $0 down. Panels obviously operate most efficiently when facing south, but can be put on roofs facing any direction other than north. A typical 3000 square foot house needs about 8 kW to cover 100 percent of its electrical needs.

Additional resources:
Elevations Credit Union and the Clean Energy Credit Union offer Home Energy Loans with very attractive rates.
• You can find a list of rebates at

By Scott Rodwin, AIA, LEED AP. Scott is the owner of the Rodwin Architecture/ Skycastle Construction, a 12 person award-winning design/build firm specializing in high-end custom green homes in Boulder. E-mail Scott at [email protected] or visit