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Green homes: solar vs. energy efficiency

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Among the states, California is furthest along in understanding its emission sources and setting specific cuts. Homes account for roughly one-third of the electricity and natural-gas consumption in California – most of it in older homes. By 2020, the state wants to cut existing home energy consumption by 40 percent.

To get there, California has incentives for both energy efficiency and rooftop solar. But it’s the solar initiative that’s gotten the buzz, helped in part by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger packaging it as the “Million Solar Roofs” plan. The program discounts piggyback on a federal tax credit of up to 30 percent of a system’s cost. San Francisco residents can get another $3,000 to $6,000 written off.
Stoking demand for solar can be good for energy efficiency, too, notes Molly Sterkel of the California Solar Initiative, the state’s solar incentive program.

“[I]t’s a two-way street. Solar gets some people excited about energy consumption and drives them to do energy efficiency. And I think a lot of people get energy efficiency and they still want to do more, and so they go do solar,” says Ms. Sterkel.

Ted and Astrid Olsson talked with half a dozen solar installers before a colleague advised getting a home energy audit first.

On a recent weekend, Golden and a two-man team walked with the Olssons around their four-story home. Golden’s team are like plumbers for air. Using smoke candles, they watch how air circulates through ducts and drains out of vents, and look for bottlenecks and leaks. Using a fan device known as a blower door, they  measure how airtight the building is.

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