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Office of Energy & Sustainable Development (OESD)
Office of Energy & Sustainable Development (OESD)

Energy Efficiency Upgrades 

Energy Efficiency: START AT HOME
Many of Berkeley’s older houses and apartments have poor insulation, excessive air leakage and inefficient heating systems, making them energy intensive. The improvements described below can reduce your energy use, while improving health, comfort, and indoor air quality. However, the first step to improving your home's energy efficeincy is to get a home energy audit. A home energy audit helps you pinpoint where your house is losing energy and what you can do to save money, see: Home Energy Audits.

An efficient home ensures that all of your home's space heating, water heating and insulation systems are working together to achieve the optimal comfort using the least amount of energy. You can improve your home’s performance by sealing leaks and insulating the "envelope" or exterior shell of your home. For more information, visit Energy Star or Energy Upgrade California.

Benefits of insulating & sealing your home:    BESO Home Energy Audit Graphic

  • Eliminate Drafts
  • Make your home quieter
  • Improve comfort
  • Reduce mold, radon & infectious diseases
  • Lower your greenhouse gas emissions
  • Save money on utility bills
  • Reduce respiratory irritants
  • Reduce your energy use
  • Improve fire safety

Where to start? Your home should be thought of as a complete system. To find out what upgrades you need, start by getting a Home Energy Audit or Home Performance Test. Home performance tests are comprehensive building assessments that measures the efficiency of your whole home. A professional home performance contractor conducts a series of tests to identify energy efficiency improvements that ultimately enhance the health and comfort of your home. The contractor will analyze your home's air quality, insulation levels, major appliances, and building envelope as well as provide a cost estimate for the improvement measures. This evaluation will help you decide which combination of improvements will make the most sense for your home and budget. Energy Upgrade California provides information and rebates for home energy upgrades.

The problem with a drafty, leaky house. Drafty homes don’t just waste energy and money, they can also be unhealthy. Drafts that come from crawl spaces, garages and basements may be bringing unhealthy air, dust, mold and even bugs or animals into your home. By making upgrades that properly seal your home, air quality will be improved and less heat will escape your home. Within Berkeley, over 90% of homes were built prior to 1960 when there were no codes for energy efficiency and may have need for full energy audits and retrofits.

Where are the air leaks? Many drafts may be easy to find because they are easy to feel — like those around windows, doors and through electrical outlets.  But the biggest leaks are often hard to find. For example, heat loss can occur around plumbing and electrical wiring within walls and pull air from crawlspaces and attics.

The Stack Effect pulls cold damp air from the crawlspace into your home. Locating and sealing entry and exit points will help create healthier air quality in your home and save you money on your energy bill.

Air moves throughout a buildings due the difference in indoor-to-outdoor air temperature. Since buildings are leaky, the stack effect will cause warm air to be drawn up through the building and escape through attic spaces, ventilation openings, or other leakages. The rising warm air reduces the pressure in the base of the building, forcing cold air to infiltrate through basements, garages, crawlspaces, or other openings and enter the living area.

Cost-Effective Home Improvements:

Seal Air Leaks. Air leakage from your home can represent up to 40% of your space heating costs. There are hundreds of places where the walls, attic, and floor may allow in drafts. For your protection, be sure to obtain a gas appliance combustion backdraft safety test from a qualified home performance contractor after performing significant sealing measures. For more information on air quality, see mechanical ventilation and air quality.

Insulate Everything. Insulate your attic, floor, and even walls to reduce drafts. Insulation will make your home feel noticeably drier, warmer, and improve indoor air quality by discouraging molds. No matter how much insulation you have, it will not be effective unless it is installed properly. For more information, see insulation.

Seal and Insulate Ducts. Duct leakage wastes heating energy and causes pressure imbalances in the home. Sealing ducts leaks near combustion furnaces is an important safety measure.

Fix the Flue. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, ensure that there is a functioning damper inside the flue, and that it is closed when the fireplace is not in use.

What about Replacing Old Windows? Generally, window replacement is not very cost effective since the greatest leaks occur in the floor, ceilings and walls. 

Rebates and Assistance:

  • Energy Upgrade California Rebates for energy upgrades or contact a Home Upgrade Advisor 1-866-878-6008.
  • PG&E Information on utility company rebates & incentives.


Check the Office of Energy & Sustainable Development for updates on new resources as they become available
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Office of Energy & Sustainable Development (OESD), 1947 Center Street, 1st Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Questions or comments? Email: Phone: (510) 981-7465
(510) 981-CITY/2489 or 311 from any landline in Berkeley
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