What Is The California Energy Upgrade Program?

What is the California energy upgrade program?

The California Energy Upgrade Program is an initiative started in 2010 by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and run by the state’s four Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs): Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison Company (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

The goal of the program is to provide California homeowners and renters access to affordable energy efficient upgrades that help conserve energy and save money on utilities. It aims to incentivize residents to implement energy efficiency improvements that align with the state’s ambitious climate, clean energy and air quality goals.

The program is administered by the four IOUs under the oversight of the CPUC. Homeowners work with participating contractors to perform an initial home energy assessment, followed by recommended energy upgrades such as insulation, heating and cooling systems, windows, appliances and more. A variety of rebates, incentives and financing options are available through the program to help offset upgrade costs.

Home Energy Assessments

The first step in the California Energy Upgrade program is a comprehensive home energy assessment conducted by a certified professional. During the assessment, the auditor will inspect the home to identify areas for potential energy savings. This includes checking insulation levels, air leaks, heating and cooling equipment, lighting, appliances, and more. According to the Electricity Savings from Residential Weatherization Programs study, the audits take 1.5-3 hours on average to complete.

The energy auditor will use advanced tools like blower doors, thermal imaging cameras, and pressure gauges to detect leaks and drafts. As explained on the California Energy Upgrade Program Yelp page, the auditor will provide a home energy rating and recommended upgrades that are eligible for rebates.

The goal of the energy assessment is to determine where the home is losing energy and provide solutions to reduce waste and lower utility bills. The audit report will outline energy efficiency upgrades to insulation, cooling/heating, windows, appliances, lighting, and more. Overall, the home assessments help identify the most cost-effective ways to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades

The California Energy Upgrade program offers homeowners a variety of energy efficiency upgrades to help reduce energy use and costs. Some of the most common upgrades available through the program include:

Insulation – Adding insulation to attics, walls, and floors helps prevent heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. Upgrades typically focus on areas of the home that are underinsulated. Blown-in, batt, and spray foam insulation may be used.

HVAC system upgrades – Old, inefficient heating and cooling systems can be replaced with newer, high-efficiency models. The program may also cover duct sealing and insulation to reduce leaks.

Windows – Replacing single-pane windows with double- or triple-pane energy efficient models reduces heat conduction. Low-emissivity coatings and gas fills further boost efficiency.

Appliances – The program offers rebates on installing ENERGY STAR certified appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, and air purifiers. Smart thermostats may also qualify.

Water heaters – Upgrading to a tankless or high-efficiency model can reduce water heating costs. Heat pump and solar water heaters are also options.

Lighting – Replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs can slash lighting energy use. Adding occupancy sensors also helps.

Building envelope sealing – Caulking, sealing, and weatherstripping reduces leaks, keeping conditioned air in and outside air out. Important for energy savings.

According to an analysis by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the California Energy Upgrade program delivered average energy savings of 8.8% for past participants through these efficiency upgrades (cite source).

Rebates and Incentives

The California Energy Upgrade program offers various rebates, tax credits, and incentives to encourage homeowners to participate in energy efficiency upgrades:

Rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, and air conditioners (source: https://greenbuildingdesignerblog.wordpress.com/). Amounts vary based on the efficiency rating of the appliance.

Federal tax credits for installing energy-efficient windows, insulation, HVAC systems, and more. Tax credits cover 10-30% of the product cost.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing allows homeowners to pay for upgrades over time through a voluntary assessment added to their property tax bill.

Utility company rebates for installing qualifying energy-efficient products and equipment.

Savings on permit fees when completing whole-home upgrades that improve energy efficiency by at least 10%.

Priority processing and exemptions from certain local energy ordinances when meeting whole-home energy upgrade requirements.

Participating Contractors

Contractors must be approved by the program in order to participate in the California Energy Upgrade initiative. The approval process requires contractors to meet certain qualifications and training requirements set by the California Public Utilities Commission. Contractors must demonstrate technical expertise in areas like building science, diagnostic testing, energy modeling software, and installation of energy efficiency measures.https://www.jofforts.com/history/

Once approved, participating contractors can market their services to homeowners interested in energy upgrades. They conduct home assessments, recommend upgrades, install approved measures, and assist homeowners in applying for rebates and incentives. Participating contractors remain in good standing by completing regular trainings and submitting project data to the program administrators. There are hundreds of contractors across California that currently participate in the initiative.

Financing Options

There are several financing options available to help homeowners pay for energy efficiency upgrades through the California Energy Upgrade program. Some of the main options include low-interest loans, on-bill financing through utilities, and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

Low-interest loans allow homeowners to finance upgrades and pay the loan back over time. Several banks and credit unions offer special energy efficiency loans with rates around 5-7% for up to 15 years [1]. This spreads out the upfront cost over the loan term.

On-bill financing allows homeowners to pay back loans through a charge on their monthly utility bill. Some California utilities like PG&E offer this option in partnership with the program. The loan is tied to the property instead of an individual [2].

PACE financing allows homeowners to fund upgrades through a property assessment. The assessment is paid back over time through property taxes. PACE loans typically have longer terms of up to 20 years and can potentially be transferred to new owners if the home is sold.

These financing programs aim to make comprehensive energy upgrades more accessible and affordable for California homeowners.

Environmental Benefits

The California Energy Upgrade program provides significant environmental benefits by reducing energy consumption and emissions in homes across the state. According to a study published in Energy and Buildings, weatherization programs like the California upgrade can achieve electricity savings between 5-30%, with an average of 15% (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.5547/01956574.37.4.jziv?download=true). These energy savings lead directly to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

By upgrading items like insulation, air sealing, HVAC systems, and appliances to more efficient models, the total energy demand of the home is decreased. This means less fossil fuels need to be burned to meet electricity demand on the grid. The study estimates that weatherization programs in the 1990s avoided about 9.8 tons of CO2 emissions per participating home over the life of the efficiency measures.

In addition to CO2, efficiency upgrades also reduce emissions of other air pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter. This improves outdoor and indoor air quality with public health benefits. Overall, the California Energy Upgrade program provides a low-cost way to achieve energy savings and meet emissions reduction goals.

Participant Experiences

“The energy upgrade program significantly improved the comfort level in my home,” said Julie S., a Sacramento homeowner. “Replacing my AC unit and installing insulation made a huge difference. My home stays cooler in the summer and my energy bills went down.”

Mike R. from San Diego participated in the program in 2020. “At first I was hesitant about the upfront cost, but the rebates and financing options made it affordable,” he said. “Now my home is much more energy efficient. I’m saving money every month on my utility bills.”

Sarah W. from Los Angeles had an extremely positive experience. “The contractors were very professional and finished the job quickly,” she said. “I highly recommend the energy upgrade program to other homeowners looking to increase comfort and save money.”


While the California Energy Upgrade program has received generally positive reviews, some participants have highlighted areas for criticism or improvement. For example, one review on Yelp mentions frustration with the complexity and time required for the home assessment process before participants can move forward with approved upgrades (https://www.yelp.com/biz/california-energy-upgrade-program-sacramento).

There have also been concerns raised about the variability in energy savings from the program. A study in the Electricity Journal found a wide range in electricity savings among program participants, suggesting more could be done to optimize and standardize upgrade recommendations and installations (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.5547/01956574.37.4.jziv?download=true).

The program has also faced criticism over its rebate processing times and complex financing options. Some homeowners have been frustrated by long waits to receive expected rebates after completing upgrades. Additionally, the multiple financing options through utility companies, banks, and contractors can be confusing for participants.

While not a direct criticism, some experts argue the program could be expanded to make whole home retrofits more affordable and accessible. The upfront costs, even with rebates, remain prohibitive for many homeowners. Some have suggested subsidized or government-backed financing could encourage deeper energy retrofits.


California’s energy upgrade program provides homeowners with an opportunity to improve their home’s energy efficiency and reduce their energy bills. Through home assessments, upgrades like insulation and HVAC improvements, and rebates and incentives, the program makes it more affordable for Californians to invest in energy saving home improvements.

Not only do these upgrades benefit individual homeowners, but they also have positive impacts for the environment by reducing overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the state. With the help of participating contractors, financing options, and government support, California homeowners have been able to upgrade over 100,000 homes to date.

If you’re a California homeowner looking to save money on your energy bills and improve the comfort of your living space while also doing your part for the environment, be sure to explore the energy upgrade program. Schedule a home assessment and start taking advantage of rebates to make upgrades affordable.

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