Energy-Efficient Home

High energy bills? Did you know the average home 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 to you (contractors are paid $250 by NYSERDA). 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.

Tompkins County Planning, 2008 (yes, we need to update this!)

Tompkins County Planning, 2008 (yes, we need to update this!)

How can I make my Home energy efficient?

1. Get an Energy Assessment. These are no-cost to households in Tompkins County with incomes under $178,000. 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:

You may also choose from a list of dozens of others who may serve the region. 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. Either contact a contractor directly or apply online (takes 2 minutes):

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 ($55,176 for a family of four in 2019), you may qualify for the EmPower program which covers 100% of qualifying energy improvements like insulation, air sealing, replacement of inefficient lighting, freezers and fridges, 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, including heating system replacement.

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

Download a combined application for EmPower and WAP here.

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. Click here for a list of local banks along with rates, loans, and contact information.

Cal Walker outside his home: "It was like we were taking a match to money."  (Photo: Lillian Mensah)

Cal Walker outside his home: "It was like we were taking a match to money." (Photo: Lillian Mensah)

What made longtime Ithaca resident Cal Walker think about energy efficiency was an ice dam and a broken scapula. One winter Cal noticed a huge ice dam forming on his home where he lived with his wife and five foster children. Worried that the ice was going to crush their hedges, Cal took a hammer to it.  The ice broke loose and started falling in his direction. Cal tried to run, but the ice crashed down on his back and broke his scapula. The doctor said the blow could have killed him. As Cal put it, “We were wasting considerable amounts of money, we were wasting considerable amounts of energy, and I personally came close to wasting the rest of my life.”

When Cal and his family learned that one of the reasons the ice dam formed was because their house was leaking warmth , they upgraded their home—sealing up the drafts and insulating the walls. Results? According to Cal, “The work absolutely blew my mind.” He and his wife went from setting their thermostat at 74°F or higher in the winter to 68°F and felt just as, or even more, comfortable.  “There were times I had to walk over and look at the thermostat just to see where [the temperature] was,” Cal remarked. “It absolutely blew us away—it was like we were taking a match to money. Had we done this years ago we could have saved thousands of dollars. That’s the only regret I have.”

Costs & Savings

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).

  • Can village of Groton electric customers participate in these programs? Customers of municipal electric utilities, like in the Village of Groton, may not be eligible for some of the NYSERDA programs above like EmPower NY and Assisted Home Performance. However, there are special rebates and programs to help with energy efficiency through the Independent Energy Efficiency Program (IEEP).

Got other questions? Contact an Energy Navigator by filling out this form. Or give us a call at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, (607) 272-2292 x 186.