Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

New Historic Building Energy Efficiency Program (HBEEP) Offers Upgrade Incentives to Owners of Older Homes

Architectural historian Colleen Davis makes a presentation on SoCalGas’ Historic Building Energy Efficiency Program to a group of interested neighbors…in a local historic home.

If you own an older home, you may think you have to live with leaky windows, drafts and other seasonal discomforts…unless you want to sacrifice the historic integrity of your home.  But the SoCalGas Company is now piloting a special energy efficiency upgrade incentive program aimed specifically at owners of homes built before 1940 and designed to show that older homes and energy efficiency do go hand in hand very nicely.

The Historic Building Energy Efficiency Program (HBEEP) is a SoCalGas pilot program, with connections to the larger Energy Upgrade California® Home Upgrade program being promoted by several local utilities.  Home Upgrade offers a number of cash incentives to owners of both new and older homes, for energy-efficient improvements such as air sealing, insulation, heating and cooling systems, hot water heaters and windows.  The new, local HBEEP program is specifically targeted to older homes, however, and is designed to encourage both historic and environmental stewardship, for the long-term health, durability, and livability of older homes.

The program was developed because owners of older homes are often under-represented in other incentive programs…but are also those who most often report that their homes are drafty, have outdated heating and cooling systems, or have older, inefficient windows.

Windows, in fact, often cause the biggest debates when it comes to energy efficiency in older homes.  Many owners of older homes say their older windows are the source of most discomfort or energy loss…but they either can’t or don’t want to replace them, or can’t find a contractor willing and able to repair them.

As a group of local neighbors learned at a recent HBEEP informational meeting in an historic West Adams home, however, older homes are often the “greenest” of all…and it’s both possible and preferable (easier, cheaper and more historically accurate and aesthetically pleasing) to repair old windows rather than replace them.

According to architectural historian Colleen Davis, who led the neighborhood gathering on behalf of ICF International, which helps SoCalGas promote and support the HBEEP program, it’s mostly contractors and window salesmen who sell the idea that older wood windows should be replaced with smaller, double-paned, often vinyl windows.  But Davis said windows in older homes were designed to bring in maximum light and warmth during the day, and are more easily repaired when they fail.  Newer, especially vinyl windows often need total replacement when any part of them breaks, which is a highly inefficient and wasteful process.  Repairing old windows, on the other hand, keeps old building materials out of landfills, prevents use of scarce resources needed to build new windows, and maintains the architectural and stylistic integrity of an older home.

Davis also pointed out that while people often assume their windows – whether in good shape or not – are the biggest culprit in the energy efficiency of older homes, they’re really just a small part of the overall picture.  Windows generally account for only about 15% of air leaks in older homes, while fireplaces account for 14%, and things like leaky ducts, walls and ceilings, and even seemingly small things like electrical outlets account for the majority of inefficiency.

The HBEEP, says Davis, takes a “whole house approach” to educating owners of older homes about energy efficiency – and the specific inefficiencies in their own homes – and then helps them target specific improvements that will make the biggest difference at the least cost, while still maintaining the historic integrity of their homes.  People who make the targeted improvements, using approved contractors specifically trained in energy efficiency in older homes, can then take advantage of financial savings, generally ranging from $300 up to as much as $6,500, depending on the house and the improvements made.

There are four steps to the program:

– Conduct a whole-house energy audit, with a contractor approved by the HBEEP.  The audit uses “building science” to  evaluate health and safety issues (like gas leaks, etc.) and diagnostic tests such as blower doors, duct blasters, infrared photography and energy modelling software to look for air leaks in the building envelope, walls, floors, and attic…as well as the efficiency levels of the current heating and cooling systems.  After the audit, a detailed report provides information on current performance and weaknesses that could be addressed.

– Review the audit results to identify the home’s biggest problem areas and best opportunities for improvement. 

– Develop a scope of work with a program-approved contractor, choosing at least three items targeted in the audit report…and then submit the incentive plan to SoCalGas for approval.

– Do the work, receive the incentive check, and then enjoy your tuned-up, more comfortable home…and lower gas bills into the future.

The HBEEP pilot will be in place for the next 6-9 months, according to Davis, and if successful may be rolled out further and for a longer period of time after that.  To be eligible, you must be a SoCalGas customer, with a home built before 1940.  It’s also important to note that the initial energy audit costs approximately $200 to $500, depending on the house, but there’s no obligation to move forward beyond that point if you don’t want to.  The rebate amounts depend on the upgrades chosen (some items are calculated at flat rates and some use a point system based on performance).

If you’d like to learn more about the Historic Building Energy Efficiency Program, contact ICF architectural historian Colleen Davis at [email protected] or Program Coordinator Sheena Tran at [email protected].  They are happy to speak with individuals or to make group presentations about the HBEEP program to interested neighbors, neighborhood associations and other community groups.


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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