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Winter Tasks: Energy Audit & Winterization of Vacant Homes

Winter is coming – and despite temps in the 50s and 60s lately, we’ll soon have overnight freezing temperatures as “the norm” rather than a warning. It’s time to take a look at where your heating bills are (and how they can be lowered). If you are the owner of a vacant home, make sure it’s either properly heated through the winter, or winterize it. Here’s some guidance on both topics.

Energy Audit

Having an energy audit performed on your home and following up with a series of energy-saving repairs brings multiple benefits: lower utility bills, increased comfort, improved “green” value, healthier indoor air quality, and protection from price increases for electricity and heating fuel.

PPL Electric Utilities as part of Pennsylvania’s Act 129 offers numerous rebates and incentives for its residential customers to improve energy efficiency. All residential customers of PPL Electric are eligible for the incentives. Interested applicants must first contact a qualified contractor to install the equipment. PPL utility maintains a database of all participating contractors that the customers can reach out to for installations. After the work is completed the customer can apply online or mail in the rebate form. The applications for the rebates for appliances and equipment must be submitted within 90 days of installation. Applications for insulation must be based on an energy audit. Rebates will be sent to the customers through a check. Check PPL out online for detailed information on their energy audit program.

Incentives are also provided for switching from electric to no-electric high efficiency central heat. Refer to the program web site for complete details.

Low income programs

Additional programs are available for qualifying low-income residential customers.

  • The E-power Wise program provides energy education workshops and provides low cost energy efficiency kits to customers that are at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.
  • The Energy efficiency kits program provides a free energy efficiency kit for income qualified customers. The kit includes smart strip, light bulbs, air filter alarm, shower faucet, thermometer, and an aerator.
  • The WRAP program provides energy audit of the home and include weatherization measures identified in the audit.

 Winterizing Vacant Homes

Every year in late October or November, our office starts to get calls about vacant properties where the pipes have frozen or burst. Many times the home owner just simply forgot (or didn’t understand) that winterizing the property is the best way to keep it safe over the coldest months. And keeping the heat on is no guarantee we won’t have an emergency. Even if you don’t run out of heating fuel, the furnace could malfunction and leave the house unprotected from the cold.

Last year we had a large older home in Pottsville where the oil burner misfired and shut off. It was in the middle of a deep freeze and serial snowstorms, so we had no showings for a week. By the time an agent visited the house, the pipes had frozen, the in a slight warming day they thawed and burst, causing extensive damage to the property. In a second case, a neighbor was in the house on one day, and the oil burner again malfunctioned overnight. Just one night of cold caused over $20,000 in damage.

Winterizing your home is not difficult or expensive. Local plumbers or contractors will come in and drain the lines, pour antifreeze down the drains and mark the water areas (sinks, toilets, etc) with signs and tape so that nobody tries to use the water. If we get a buyer for the property over the winter yes we will probably need to un-winterize it to do inspections. Typical cost for winterization runs anywhere from $200-300. It is well worth it to protect your home.

If you are going to keep the heat on (and honestly that does help us sell your home  – as no buyer wants to rush in and out of a freezing house in January) – keep it set to 55-60 degrees. Have someone regularly check the home to be sure the temperature does not fall if the furnace malfunctions or you run out of fuel.

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