Sustainability Recipe: Energy-Efficient Homes

November 10, 2017

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Sustainability Life Recipes provide practical tips to go green and save green. Each recipe features strategies that save money while protecting the environment and contributing to good jobs for people in our community.

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Produced in collaboration with Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

High energy bills? Did you know the average home has has leaks that, taken together, are the size of a basketball? It's like leaving a window open in winter! By sealing these cracks and adding insulation, you significantly cut down on the energy used to heat and cool your home, and on your energy bills, and make your home more comfortable.

Home energy assessments are available to most New York State residents--renters and owners--at no cost. The assessments help you identify which improvements make sense for your home. Having an energy assessment qualifies you for incentives, rebates, and low-interest loans that can be applied to your energy-efficiency improvements.

Ask questions, get advice, share your thoughts on the local online forum on energy-efficient homes.



1. Get an Energy Assessment. These are no-cost to households with incomes under $157,000. Use one of these local contractors--all of whom have agreed to a set of good practice standards--and support well-paying jobs in our community:

Assessments take 2-4 hours. You should accompany the auditor to learn the most about your home and its energy needs. Based on the assessment, contractors will provide you with a report with recommended actions to improve the comfort and safety of your home, as well as reduce your energy bills. The report will provide payback estimates for each of the improvements.

Download our draft guide [pdf] to help you with the process of working with an energy contractor.

The contractors will help you determine if you qualify for any available discount or rebate programs, such as:

  • EmPower NY - If your family makes less than 60% of the State's median income ($53,071 for a family of four in 2017), you may qualify for the EmPower program which covers 100% of qualifying energy improvements like insulation, air sealing, and more.

  • The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), administered locally by Tompkins Community Action (here for other counties), uses the same eligibility criteria as Empower NY (see above), and provides additional energy improvements at no cost.

Download a combined application for EmPower and WAP here.

All of these incentives are available for homeowners as well as renters, though you will have to work with your landlord.

There are also low-interest loans (3.5-4%) and other discounts available. Learn more about these and about all the different home energy efficiency programs on NYSERDA's site.

2. There are also no-cost/low-cost things you can do on your own or with some help, including weather-stripping windows and doors, insulating your hot water pipes, and programming your thermostat. See here for a list of DIY projects you can do.

3. There are many local financing options for low energy improvements. Don't let a big sticker price stop you from switching to low energy options. Often, energy efficiency improvements and renewables can cover your monthly loan payments and generate savings from day one. 


Weatherstripping can cost you as little as a few dollars, while a comprehensive whole-home air sealing and insulation job will be in the thousands. Savings depend on how leaky and uninsulated your home was before, and on your source (and cost) of heating fuel. The leakier your house is, and the more expensive your fuel source, the more you’ll save by doing the work. Here is one assessment tool from BPI you can use to get a sense of potential savings.


  • What improvements are covered by incentives? In general, all the programs cover air sealing and insulation, as well as upgrades to lighting and certain heating and cooling appliance upgrades, as well as refrigerators and freezers. This document [pdf] contains a list of eligible improvements for the Home Performance program.

  • Are windows covered? No. In general, windows, doors, and roofs are not covered under the incentive programs. However, in extreme cases they may be covered under the Weatherization Assistance Program.

  • I'm a renter? Can I still qualify? Yes. All of the incentive programs work for renters. It is best if you have your landlord's support; otherwise only minimal work can be done (e.g. changing lightbulbs and installing faucet aerators).

Got other questions? Contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, (607) 272-2292.