I Need a HERO

As the economy gets tighter and our wallets get thinner, people are looking for ways to cut costs and take advantage of the newest incentive programs. One of those programs unique to Louisiana is the HERO (Home Energy Rebate Option) program. The details can be complicated, so here’s an overview to help determine if it’s time for you to get a HERO…

HERO is under the direction of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Its purpose is to encourage individuals who have an existing home to make energy efficiency improvements that will significantly reduce energy usage. In a nutshell, HERO provides a maximum $2,000 cash incentive based on the before-and-after assessment of the energy efficiency improvements of your home.

Here are some basic guidelines that must be met before qualifying for HERO:
1. Only existing homes are eligible.
2. The home must be a single residence or a duplex (no larger than a duplex).
3. The home must be located in Louisiana.
4. If replacing the HVAC condenser, it must be upgraded to at least a SEER 13.
5. The home must be 30% more efficient after improvements (verified by a before and after audit done by a 3rd party certified HERO rater)

This is where homeowners get a bit disoriented. The HERO process is not a simple list of items to check off before receiving a $2000 check from the state. It is also not an air conditioner replacement rebate. (There is a federal tax credit for this – see http://www.energystar.gov ).

The HERO program exists to encourage homeowners who are already committed to doing a large amount of (usually quite expensive) energy efficiency related improvements to call a professional rater who can help them get the most for their money. A certified HERO/RESnet rater is trained to understand how homes work as a system. They can give expert advice on improvements that maximize performance and provide good indoor air quality while maintaining durability. It’s easy to get information overload from salespeople pushing “efficiency” products. The rater acts as 3rd party to help wade through the bulk of information and determine what is best for a particular home. A rater’s advice comes at a price, depending on the size of the home and the extent of services they offer. This is where people usually get a shocked look on their face and cry out, “But that will cut into my rebate!”

Yes, it will. However, remember that the goal of HERO is not to reimburse the money you spend on improvements. It is to encourage you to hire a professional that can help you make decisions about improving your home. The net reward is a lower utility bill and a more comfortable and healthy place to live.

So what type of homeowner is best suited for HERO? Each house is so different, but there are a few similarities between HERO candidates. Ask yourself the questions below:
1. Are you planning on spending at least 8 to 10 thousand dollars on energy efficiency improvements to your home within the next 6 months?
2. Is your home at least 15 years old?
3. Are you replacing your old heating and cooling system (Indoor and outdoor)?
4. If yes, is your heating and cooling system 10 years old or older?
5. Are you replacing your ductwork?
6. Are you adding insulation in the attic?
7. Are you adding insulation in your walls?
8. Are you replacing your water heater?
9. Are you replacing at least 25% of your windows?
10. Are you planning on sealing places that leak air into the home?

If you answered “yes” to questions 1-3 and “yes” to at least 2 of the others, you are probably a good candidate. If you answered “yes” to only one or two questions, it may be very difficult to qualify your home for HERO. In fact, only 25 of the 30 percentage points needed to qualify for HERO can come from replacing your heating and cooling system (that’s why the program is not an A/C replacement rebate).

Let’s say you answered quite a few “yeses” to the previous questions and you’d like to move forward. Here are your next steps:

1. Call a certified HERO rater such as LaGrange Consulting BEFORE making any improvements.
2. The HERO rater comes to your home and does an initial inspection of your home’s energy efficient features – insulation, windows, water heater, ductwork, heating and cooling system, etc.
3. The rater performs a air leakage test and a duct leakage test using blower door equipment.
4. The rater sketches a rough blueprint of your home with measurements taken on site.
5. The rater has you fill out paperwork required by the state for the HERO program and collects payment for their services.
6. The rater goes back to his/her office, builds a computer model of your home with all the data collected. The computer program produces a “HERS score” which is an energy efficiency score for your home. This is the benchmark from which you will have to improve 30% (30 points). For example, a 25 year old home with few upgrades might net a score of 185 before improvements. After improvements, that score must drop at least 30 points to 155 to qualify for HERO.
7. The rater puts together a list of improvements that are recommended for your home and sends it to you.
8. You get bids on the improvements and send the estimates to the rater
9. The rater uses the improvements and their costs to build an upgraded computer model of your home and compares it to the existing model. The information is sent to the state where your rebate money is reserved for 6 months.
10. You make the recommended improvements over the next 6 mos. and keep copies of all your receipts. Throughout the process, the rater should be a good source of information for advice as you make more detailed decisions on making improvements.
11. When you are finished making improvements, call the rater and schedule a final audit.
12. The rater returns, collects copies of your receipts, conducts a 2nd inspection to confirm that the improvements were made properly. The rater also repeats the blower door test and duct leakage test.
13. The rater returns to his/her office and updates the computer models based on your improvements. The rater sends the information to the state, which has 60 days to process your rebate check. The check is sent to your address.
14. You enjoy your much more efficient and comfortable home.

How the final rebate amount is calculated:
The HERO rebate is based on the LOWER of 2 numbers:
1. 20% of the cost of improvements (maximum of $2000) OR
2. 20% of the estimated savings you will reap over the next 20 years (maximum of $2000).
Because a lot of factors vary between improvements (estimated useful life, for example) your final rebate may be less than the full $2,000. Your rater can estimate a rebate amount after the initial energy audit. Remember that HERO helps you get the right information for your home while making it a better place to live.

If you are ready for an energy efficiency overhaul, call LaGrange Consulting (985-845-2148). We will get you scheduled for a HERO audit, help reduce your monthly bills and make that wallet a little healthier.

This blog was written for Paul LaGrange’s BuildWrite website and was originally posted on July 3, 2009.

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