Energy audit program expands to all Ferndale homes

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published April 10, 2012

 An energy audit program that was initially offered to about 400 Ferndale homes in late 2010 is now available to all homes in the city. Here, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks during an energy audit of the home of Ferndale residents Jason and Lizzy Thompson on Dec. 9, 2010.

An energy audit program that was initially offered to about 400 Ferndale homes in late 2010 is now available to all homes in the city. Here, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks during an energy audit of the home of Ferndale residents Jason and Lizzy Thompson on Dec. 9, 2010.

File photo by Edward Osinski

FERNDALE — Saving money on energy costs in Ferndale just got a little easier.

The BetterBuildings for Michigan program, which offers home energy audits to residents for just $100, is now available to all Ferndale residents. Those who participate will receive numerous energy improvements that will help them keep their home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, as well as a variety of additional energy-saving tips.

BetterBuildings for Michigan (BBFM) is a project of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and implemented locally by the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office (SEMREO). It enables homeowners to save money on their energy bills with just a few simple improvements. The $100 enrollment cost covers the initial check-up as well as the financing for any additional work that may be needed.

The energy audits were originally made available to an area of Ferndale with about 400 homes in late 2010, but now it has expanded to include the entire city, as well as Sterling Heights, Roseville, Lathrup Village, Southgate, Ypsilanti and six neighborhoods in Detroit.

“That was a pilot program, so at first we just wanted to use a small neighborhood to introduce it to the region,” said Sheila Vanfield, an outreach manager for SEMREO, who is organizing the program in Ferndale. “But it was decided that it would be even better if we could reach out to entire cities, rather than just specific neighborhoods.”

Vanfield added that while the program is available through the end of the year, interested homeowners should sign up as soon as possible in order to ensure that their home gets added to the list in time.

The BBFM program takes residents through the process of making their home more energy efficient. Each participant starts with a home checkup, during which a certified energy analyst uses high-tech equipment to locate places in the home where air is leaking, as well as testing any gas appliances for potential leaks. After the checkup, the resident will receive a full report on their home that will help them choose and prioritize their options for saving energy at home. BBFM will then help fund any upgrades that the resident selects from the report.

Vanfield believes that now is the perfect time of year for Ferndale homeowners to invest in an energy audit. “With the weather changing so much this spring, people might be reaching for their heat and their air conditioning in the same week,” she said. “The people that we’ve worked with are usually surprised to find out that easy improvements like adding insulation can make their home so much more comfortable without even touching the thermostat.”

For its $100 fee, the BBFM program is estimated to provide homeowners with $1,100 to $1,200 in energy improvements. In addition, once the upgrades are in place, residents can expect to save 20 to 30 percent on their energy bills.

According to Phil Hadley, a program administrator for SEMREO, Ferndale’s many older homes are ideally suited for an energy audit, as many of them lack proper air sealing and often have insufficient insulation in the attic.

“People shouldn’t even think about buying a new furnace before they try this out — otherwise, they’re just throwing their money away,” he said. “A lot of folks don’t understand the benefits of this and don’t realize how quickly they’re going to see savings on their energy costs. They will notice a difference right away.”

Hadley noted that while only 91 of the 400 eligible Ferndale homes in late 2010 chose to participate in the program, SEMREO is hoping for stronger participation this time around.

The Ferndale City Council discussed the issue at its March 26 meeting, when it voted unanimously to allow the program to expand to the entire city. Mayor Dave Coulter pointed out that his home was included in the original pilot area, and he was very pleased with the results of the energy audit that he had done.

“I have a newer house, so I honestly didn’t think that this would apply to me,” the mayor said. “But for a very small fee, I ended up with a hot water heater blanket, a programmable thermostat, (energy-efficient) light bulbs — all sorts of great improvements. … It was well worth the time and effort that they put into it. I would encourage everybody in Ferndale to (participate in this program).”

Resident Sherry Wells was also happy with the impact that the energy audit had on her home. “I have done so much trying to improve the energy usage in my house,” she said, “and in the four hours they spent there, not only did I get the programmable thermostat and the (energy-efficient) light bulbs … but I learned a lot more than I ever thought they could teach me about other ways of sealing and insulating. Just those four hours they spent really paid off.”

City Manager April McGrath said that she hopes the word gets out to more residents about what a great deal the BBFM program is and what significant improvements it can bring to their home.

“Some of the feedback that we had heard was that there was concern from some residents that this was just a sales pitch and that there was a catch to it, but there really is not,” she said. “This truly is a grant-funded program, and we’re very excited that we get to extend this (offer) to all of our residents.”

To sign up for an energy audit or to find out more information, go to www.regionalenergyoffice.org or call (313) 566-4801, ext. 718.