GREEN- Tax break!: Going <i>really </i>green saves money

John Semmelhack of Think Little Home Energy conducts energy audits to determine a house's energy efficiency.

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 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.



This is all a little to cozy. What exactly are the present and past relationships among Mr. Semmelhack, CCDC, and C'ville's Neighborhood Development Service, and why didn't this article make any mention of them?

Do you have any actual information about connections between these two entities and Mr. Semmelhack?

Adam, I guess your Google got broken.

The article reads like an infomercial and doesn't mention some things that might be interesting to know. I'm a bit uncomfortable with whatever relationship there is between CDC and Neighborhood Development. CCDC has at time played the role of impartial resource and at times the role of government flunky. Semmelhack used to work for CCDC and may still.

The Hook is free to publish what it pleases. When something like this comes up, I hope that its writers will ask and write about a little more than just what's on the surface though.

It looks like the city has created a nice little program which only exists to promote an environmental agenda by providing taxpayers with an incentive to invest in energy efficiency. It's hard to say whose idea any of that was, but it looks like an initiative from the CCDC. It may be an idea that came from conversations between CCDC and the city. It is certainly convenient that it seems to coincide with the entry into the energy audit business of someone working for CCDC.

The article mentions that taking the additional time to go to CDC's Spark-Change website will lead to a list of local energy auditors, and with persistence, it eventually will. Why bother with that hassle when you have the name, contact info, and seeming endorsement that the article above provides? Sloppy reporting I say!

The bulk of the houses in the city are OLD. They waste tremendous amounts of energy and 1300 bucks would cause them to save WAY more energy than an ultra efficent house that is already 90 percent there. The city would be better off giving tax credits to houses that ran an audit and improved their efficieny by a certain percentage.

Of course that isn't all glitzy.

infovoid says: "It looks like the city has created a nice little program which only exists to promote an environmental agenda by providing taxpayers with an incentive to invest in energy efficiency."

And you make it sound like a bad thing? Sounds like a great investment to me.

Sean, the keyword was "only." You should also note the "It looks like part" too. Both are important to the point which that sentence makes. Whether there is only one agenda is in question.

> Adam, I guess your Google got broken.

Hardly, "infovoid". The article linked shows that Mr. Semmelhack formerly worked for CCDC. It doesn't show a relationship between him and NDS. It's one thing to complain about the reporting in an article as you do above. It's another to make vague insinuations like:

"Semmelhack used to work for CCDC and may still."

He's not listed as staff or on their board of directors. Did you mean something else?

In the interest of disclosure, I have no relationship with Mr. Semmelhack, CCDC, or NDS, nor have I ever. I just don't think much of anonymous insinuations in public fora.