GREEN- Tax break!: Going <i>really </i>green saves money
As if lower energy bills and a healthier planet aren't enough encouragement, there's one more reason for city homeowners to go green: a new tax credit. In July, Charlottesville City Council approved an ordinance offering a one-time, 50 percent property tax break to the homeowners of any city house that is 30 percent more efficient than the current state building standards. For the average Charlottesville house, assessed at $273,000, that would provide a credit of almost $1,300.
Excited? Well, don't start jumping up and down just yet. In order to get the local credit, a house must score 70 or below on the federal Home Energy Rating Index. That's 15 points lower than the score required for "Earthcraft"-certified houses, which have popped up all over the city in recent years, with their builders promising energy efficiency and reduced utility bills.
"We wanted to promote and incentivize really energy efficient buildings," explains Kristel Riddervold, environmental administrator in the City's Public Works Department.
John Semmelhack, owner of Think Little Home Energy, an energy consulting business, has already certified three houses for the program: a house in River Bluff ec0-development near Riverview Park, a Thermasteel house in Chisholm Place off Chesapake, and architect Bob Pineo's new house on Chesapeake.
But, Semmelhack admits, most older houses will score significantly higher than 100, the minimum standard for new houses. "The worst I've seen is 200," says Semmelhack.
Even if you know your house won't qualify for the tax break, Semmelhack says an energy audit– which can run $250 to $450– is worthwhile. That's because houses leak energy in places the average homeowner can't see, so caulking visible holes, windows, and doors is only a beginning to improving efficiency.
"Those are the lesser leaks," says Semmelhack. The bigger leaks, he says, are around baseboards, all around the perimeter of a house, and in the basement or crawlspace where the concrete foundation meets wood framing. Other culprits: "recessed lighting that's connected to attic or unconditioned space and any place where a plumber or mechanical contractror has drilled a hole in an outside wall, or up to the attic." Energy auditors, Semmelhack explains, use tools– including infrared– to discover such hidden leaks.
Semmelhack says ductwork is notoriously leaky, and he recalls one house in which a duct was open and pulling treated air straight into the uninsualted attic.
"That's about the worst thing I've seen," he says.
For more information about an energy audit and improving your home's efficiency, check spark-change.org. The site, sponsored by the Charlottesville Community Design Center, lists five local energy auditors and has tips for improving the efficiency of your house.
The deadline for tax break applications (available through the City's Department of Neighborhood Development Services) is October 1. Applications received after that date will be considered for next year's taxes. And sorry County residents: no such tax break exists in Albemarle.