Getting a handle on home energy costs with utility rebates

So, here we are in mid-winter, with months of seasonal utility bills looming. What to do if you’re looking to take a bite out of energy costs? There are plenty of DIY approaches—whole books of them, in fact. However, this article will cover the existing rebate programs available to KC-area residents if they’re customers of the area’s two main electric and natural gas utilities: KCP&L & Spire. These incentives fall into two major categories. First, major investments in equipment—i.e. furnaces, water heaters and central air systems. Second, incentives for air sealing and insulation. If you’re thinking solar, hold that thought—we’ll be looking at home solar options in some detail in the near future. 

An unfortunate note for those on the Kansas side of the Metro—these programs are, to date, available only in Missouri in each company’s designated services areas. Changes are likely coming in the wake of the Westar/KCP&L merger, but at this point we don’t know what or when. In addition, we strongly suggest that you read through the information available at the main pages for efficiency programs for both KCP&L and Spire for details on eligibility, timelines, process and paperwork. 

Before moving ahead, you’ll want to make sure what you’re doing makes financial sense. For HVAC systems, the Washington State University payoff calculator helps, and they’re not selling anything. 


Air Sealing and Insulation 

Doing air sealing and updating your insulation are two processes that go hand in hand. If you ask any home energy efficiency contractor, they’ll tell you that air sealing (closing the cracks and penetrations and chases in a house) is the most cost-effective approach to cutting home energy bills. Air sealing pays for itself in one to two years. Insulation comes next, and it pays for itself in three to four years.   

You may want to consider having a home energy audit done before conducting insulation and sealing. An energy audit (sometimes called a home performance assessment or other friendlier phrasing) will tell you precisely where your home is leaking air and provide a contractor a detailed map of where improvements are most needed. In many cases, the same home energy contractor who does the audit can also do air sealing and insulation and will write off the cost of the audit—typically $300–$400—if you hire them for the entire project. 

If you live in a leaky home, proper sealing and insulation could dramatically reduce your home heating and cooling needs and allow you to downsize your HVAC systems, so do this step first if possible! 

  • Available Incentives:  Both Spire and KCP&L offer rebates of $300 for home air sealing, and $500 for ceiling insulation. If you are a customer of both utilities, you can combine these offers for a grant total of $1,600 in rebates for home insulation. Detailed information on rebate totals and required levels of insulation are available here. 

Water Heaters 

Water heaters aren’t designed to last beyond 10 or (maybe) 15 years. Regular maintenance can extend the life of a unit, but setting this aside, today’s designs are as much as 20% more efficient than an existing model nearing the end of its useful life. Replacement costs vary, but general estimates range from $750 to $1,350, as of June 2018.   

Central Heating  

For modern gas furnaces, you can expect between 15 and 25 years of service. Like water heaters, modern units are far more efficient than old ones (a 94% efficient furnace rated at 80,000 BTUs puts out as much heat as a 100,000 BTU system that’s only 75% efficient). The key metric is AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). This is important, as the rebates available through Spire require AFUE of at least 92%. This puts you squarely in the high-efficiency category, and you can expect to spend $3,000-$5,000 for a new system. In return, you can expect about 20% savings every year for the life of the system.   

  • Available Incentives:  $200 for a furnace of between 92% and 95% efficiency; $300 for a furnace with efficiency equal to or greater than 96%. Rebate applications are available online or can be downloaded in PDF format. 

Central Air Conditioning   

You can expect 15 to 20 years from a central air conditioner. And, as in previous categories, new units are substantially more efficient than old systems. In the case of central air systems, you need to look for the SEER number. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency (and the higher the KCP&L rebate). 

  • Available Incentives:  $125 to $400 for replacing AC systems, whether they’re currently working or not. Higher rebates are only available for equipment that is still operating—in other words, pre-failure. General rebate information available here, with detailed breakdowns on categories and rebate amounts available here.   

 David Albrecht, MEC Program Coordinator