Idaho utilities seek to weatherize homes for cost, energy savings

Alx Stevens//May 6, 2021

Idaho utilities seek to weatherize homes for cost, energy savings

Alx Stevens//May 6, 2021

photo of idaho power weatherizing the richfield senior center
Idaho Power and community partners help weatherize the Richfield Senior Center. Photo courtesy of Idaho Power

Power utility stakeholders are exploring ways to not only save money, but to also support energy efficiency and the local contractor network. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal nonprofit power marketer to 140 companies in the Northwest, has launched a residential retrofit program this year — Comfort Ready Home — to benefit power stakeholders, including customers and contractors, through home or business weatherization, which can include advanced air sealing, ductless systems and updated water heating systems.

“In 2018, electric utilities in the Northwest realized that our best option for using energy efficiency to meet our energy and capacity needs is through energy efficiency measures that reduce heating and cooling loads, specifically weatherization,” BPA stated in a report. “We also realized that while weatherization measures meet our utility needs perfectly, the market for weatherization in the Northwest has nearly collapsed.”

Comfort Ready Home, a free resource, has the objectives of:

  • “Being a one-stop shop for training, resources and business development” for contractors
  • Helping utility companies reach their energy-efficiency program goals
  • Supporting homeowners in investing “in comfort that pays for itself”

Essentially, homeowners save on their utility bills, utilities save on cost of service and the quantity of the utility (and have help in marketing their initiatives) and contractors are trained in the latest industry trends and potentially connected with new work.

photo of rob burr
Rob Burr

New training materials continue to be added and updated, said Rob Burr, program manager for Comfort Ready Home, and further development of the website will continue over the next two to three years as the Comfort Ready Home program continues to be built. Burr oversees and approves content deliverables and helps ensure the program is implemented successfully across the region.

“Now we have been talking to customers (across the region) to see if (the program) fits their needs,” Burr said. “It’s been going well. We have had a lot of good conversations with people.”

The next steps include getting all utilities that are interested in the program signed on, then seeing how the program can continue to benefit a contractor network.

photo of air sealing
Comfort Ready Home supports air sealing for weatherization. Photo courtesy of BPA

“The reason the program is called Comfort Ready Home is we are trying to highlight different benefits of utility customers doing this kind of work (and to) showcase the importance and the benefits of it are not always monetary,” Burr said. “Just improving really the overall system of a home (is an) approach to comfort, something that I think (tends to) be overlooked.”

What are other local power providers doing?

Comfort Ready Home also aims to support power utility companies in their own weatherization initiatives. Both Avista and Idaho Power also offer such initiatives, including for “income qualifying” (or low-income) residential power customers. Neither work directly through Comfort Ready Home, and the program offers its training materials to service area contractors.

Avista provides funding to an organization called Community Action Partnership to provide weatherization services to income-qualified customers, according to Avista spokesperson Colette Bottinelli. Low-income offerings are developed based on the measures that are most effective at reducing overall energy use for customers’ homes.

Avista goes through an annual business plan process where a list of energy efficiency improvements are identified through a conservation potential assessment (i.e., what type of measures are cost effective for the utility and would make sense for our customers to install), Bottinelli added. If they pass the utility cost effectiveness test, a rebate amount is assigned and offered as an incentive for customers to make energy efficiency upgrades to their home. Weatherization rebates include adding insulation or installing new windows, as well as offering money back on smart thermostats, high efficiency equipment and more.

Similar to Avista, Idaho Power partners with the Community Action Agency and the Department of Health and Welfare to provide free home energy audits that lead to weatherization recommendations for the home, then income-qualifying homeowners (such as the elderly) can work with Idaho Power to receive those upgrades.

photo of theresa drake
Theresa Drake

Theresa Drake, customer relations & energy efficiency senior manager, also spoke to Idaho Power offering information to all customers about energy and cost saving habits (turning off lights in rooms not in use, opening windows or lowering blinds to cool a home, etc.) and weatherization practices that could provide energy and cost savings to the home. And, part of the goal is for all residents to be more comfortable.

“We are excited to help customers use energy wisely, because first we feel it is the right thing to do, to help them use our products and services as effectively as possible. If (we) think about every kilowatt hour saved … (that) is one that saves all customers money,” Drake said.

This also helps Idaho Power pursue its Clean Energy goals (such as 100% clean energy in 2045). Savings from Idaho Power’s energy efficiency programs totaled 180,818 megawatt hours in 2020 and 184,934 megawatt hours in 2019, which represents enough energy to power almost 17,000 average homes in Idaho Power’s service area for one year, according to a recent report.

While Idaho Power doesn’t recommend specific contractors, and encourages customers to do their due diligence in researching local contractors, the utility company does provide a list of contractors it has ensured are trained and up-to-date on industry standards and practices. There are also incentives for new construction, Drake added, encouraging developers to install all electricity infrastructure in the home above current code.

“The cost savings go on and on; they’re lifelong,” Drake said. “Just changing our own behavior can help reduce energy (at) low or no cost.”