One year into a federal grant program to promote energy efficiency, many regional systems are running out of money. However, Jack Strong said his program is still flush with money, information and resources for homeowners.
Strong is the program director of EnergyWorks, a one-stop energy efficiency resource for the five-county Philadelphia area. EnergyWorks, a program of the Energy Coordinating Agency and the city of Philadelphia, offers deeply discounted energy audits through certified building analysts. If homeowners choose to undertake any energy upgrades recommended in the audits, EnergyWorks also links them to subsidized work through certified contractors, as well as low-interest financing and a list of all available tax credits and rebates.
In a time when new green companies are popping up overnight, Strong said the program participants appreciate that they can trust both the auditors and contractors associated with the EnergyWorks program. All the companies are carefully screened and their work is closely inspected, Strong said.
Strong said despite the wide scope of the program, EnergyWorks will be able to stretch its $25 million Better Building Neighborhood grant from the federal Department of Energy across three years. He expects the EnergyWorks program to be fully operational through June 2013.
The first year of the program ended in June, and more than 800 homeowners in the Philadelphia area purchased the discounted audits in the first 12 months. The audits cost $400, but homeowners pay $150, and the federal grant covers the difference. After the assessment, homeowners can get an extra $50 rebate on the audit if they pay for any of the recommended improvements.
To help finance those improvements, EnergyWorks is coordinating with local lenders to offer 0.99-percent loans for up to $15,000, payable over 10 years. There is an income limit for the 0.99-percent financing, but any area resident is eligible for a $150 audit.
Strong said one of his biggest challenges is convincing homeowners who get the audit to follow through with the upgrades. About 30 percent of the first 826 audited homeowners spent more money to make their homes more efficient. On average, those who upgraded their homes spent between $3,000 and $6,000 to air-seal and insulate their homes, according to Strong. A few spent significantly more replacing HVAC components.
On average, those homeowners saw a 20 to 30 percent savings on their energy bills. Strong said those numbers might have been higher, but the program can’t enforce habits or lifestyle choices. He noted that a tightly sealed and insulated house is still drafty if doors are left open.
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