Texas city offers model for cutting home energy use

AUSTIN, TEXAS - For residents looking for inspiration to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, one North American city provides a helpful model.

Austin, Texas pays good money through the city's incentive programs to help residents willing to take the step toward energy efficiency.

"Austin's always been a progressive community, and we own our municipal electric utility (Austin Energy), so there's a real incentive to look at energy efficiency," says Richard Morgan, manager of Green Buildings for Austin Energy. "Financially it works for us, and the attitude of Austin in general is very environmentally conscious."

He explains that financial incentives for residents help them reach environmental goals they couldn't otherwise afford.

When it comes to inducements for energy efficiency, Toronto's not where Austin is, yet. The Texas city's incentive model is well known to City of Toronto staff, who are hoping to create the same type of energy-saving attitude here.

"They've got quite a comprehensive program down there," says Lawson Oates, director of the city's Environment Office.

"We have a lot of rebates available to Toronto residents," he says. But unlike Austin's comprehensive municipal program, Oates says Toronto residents looking to save energy must access separate grant and rebate programs from the city, province and Ottawa.

"We're trying to create a one-window approach between the three levels of government. We know a lot of Torontonians don't apply for available rebates."

Here's a comparison of rebates offered by Austin and Toronto, and additional programs Torontonians can use. (Many of the Toronto options are also available to residents in other GTA communities; check with your local hydro utility.)

Energy audit

Toronto: Through the province's Ontario Home Energy Savings Program, residents can receive a 50 per cent rebate, up to $150, on a home energy audit.

Austin: Free home energy analysis for houses older than 10 years.

Major projects

Toronto: After an audit, homeowners who qualify for total home energy rebates through the province's Home Energy Retrofit Program can get up to $5,000 for energy-efficiency improvements. The federal government matches up to $5,000, for a total of up to $10,000.

Austin: Up to $1,575 (US) in total for all of the following: purchase of efficient air conditioner (with additional 20 per cent rebate); heat pump (with additional 20 per cent rebate); duct repair and sealing; additional attic insulation; solar screens, window film, caulking and weather stripping; attic/roof radiant barrier/reflective material.

Appliances and toilets

Toronto: Residents can get $60 cash back on the purchase of a new high-efficiency, front-loading clothes washer, and $60 or $75 to replace old toilets with water-efficient models.

Austin: Residents can get rebates of up to $100 each for high-efficiency clothes washers, refrigerators and dishwashers.

Electricity reduction

Toronto: Through Toronto Hydro's Peaksaver program, residents get a device installed free on their central air-conditioning unit that automatically cuts electricity use during peak times. They also get a retail gift card worth $75.

Austin: Residents get a free smart thermostat worth $280 and a bonus of $25 for families that agree to an extra five minutes daily of cycle-off time for their air conditioners.

Old refrigerators

Toronto: Through Toronto Hydro's Refrigerator Roundup program, residents can get old refrigerators picked up for free.

Austin: Residents have old fridges picked up for free and are paid $50.


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