Living Sustainably: Preparing for the Cold Weather Season with Home Energy Upgrades

By Ken Freestone, City of Holland
Anyone notice that it’s getting colder? That of course means it is time to get your furnace tuned up and to stop cold air from leaking into your house. Focus on places where you get icicles, feel drafts, and where you can improve comfort, health and safety.

Preparing for cold weather is more than putting up plastic on the windows and using door snakes. Breezes people feel in their homes are usually caused by poor insulation, lack of air-sealing around windows, and drafty doors, baseboards and the attic.

Most people think windows cause the worst conditions. Although windows contribute to poor conditions, improving a house’s air sealing and insulation will have the greatest impact on comfort,
energy efficiency and health. Air sealing and insulation are also some of the least expensive things a homeowner can do to conserve energy and provide the greatest return on investments.

To date, more than 250 homeowners in the City of Holland have completed Deep Energy Retrofits/Upgrades or some kind of energy improvements in their homes. Here are some statistics to illustrate the value to homeowners, to the city, and to reducing energy use:

  • $3.85 million invested by homeowners on Energy Efficiency upgrades,
  • $487,000 in grants provided to homeowners,
  • 20 percent average gain in home energy efficiency,
  • 50 percent of projects financed on home energy bills through Holland Board of Public Works. 40 percent financed through

Other benefits of home retrofits have included old knob and tube wiring replacement; remediation of asbestos, lead and mold; improved air quality and ventilation; and reducing our community carbon footprint and making good progress towards reaching our Community Energy Plan goals.

Here is what some homeowners have had to say about the benefits from energy upgrades:
 “We have a dining room that we can now use in the winter. Before having the retrofit it was too cold to use.” – R.G.
 “My third-floor office is now almost the same temperature as the rest of my house, all year long.” – K.K.

So, what can you do to make your home more efficient, comfortable, healthier, and safer? Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Get your furnace tuned up by a professional and check your filters every month. SEMCO offers a $50 rebate for tune-ups.
  2. Get a free home energy audit through the City of Holland Home Energy Retrofit program. Auditors will check air leakage, insulation, HVAC, appliances, ventilation and more. And the Holland Energy Fund offers $1,000 to $3,000 towards your Home Energy Upgrade. City of Holland residents should contact Ken Freestone for details and free consultation at or (616)355-1364.
  3. Determine the age of your HVAC systems and appliances. Here are some general guidelines to consider for possible replacement: furnace over 20 years old? Water heater over 15 years old?Refrigerator older than 12 years? Is it ENERGY STAR® certified?
  4. Check for rebates and incentives for energy upgrades. Available incentives include light bulbs, refrigerators, dishwashers, freezers and more. The HBPW also will pick up old refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers and air conditioning units and properly recycle them at Padnos. The HBPW will give $50 rebates for large units and $15 for small. (Limit two large and two small appliances per customer per year.)

To learn more about rebates, look for the Residential/Rebates pulldown under Customer Service at For those with SEMCO service, go to Incentives include: furnace, programmable thermostat, insulation, windows and more.

Together we can help Holland become a World Class Energy Efficient community.

 Ken Freestone is Holland’s residential energy advisor, focusing on home energy retrofits for city residents, and is also co-founder of, a nonprofit focused on sustainability.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Smart Energy: We need to use both conservation and efficiency measures to manage our resources to provide access to reliable and cost-effective energy.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.

A furnace tuneup can be a quick way to save on energy costs, and some rebates might help cover the costs.
Holland residents can get help with costs for home energy retrofit services like better insulation or duct sealing.
Ice cascading from a roof is a sure sign of poor insulation and higher
than necessary energy costs.