Home energy savings grant ends March 31

By: Andy Kozlowski, Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published March 13, 2013

 Pedro Santiago from Walker-Miller Energy Services checks for air leaks around a window during an energy audit at the Ferndale home of Jason and Lizzy Thompson in December 2010.

Pedro Santiago from Walker-Miller Energy Services checks for air leaks around a window during an energy audit at the Ferndale home of Jason and Lizzy Thompson in December 2010.

File photo by Edward Osinski

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FERNDALE/HUNTINGTON WOODS — This month marks the last chance for local homeowners, tenants and landlords to take advantage of a golden opportunity to save hundreds of dollars on annual energy costs.

BetterBuildings for Michigan is a statewide nonprofit program backed by a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and it is coming to an end March 31. Through the program, residents can receive a home energy audit and minor energy-saving improvements at a sharply discounted price of only $100. More significant home upgrades can also have their costs defrayed by matching rebates of up to $1,500, or other special financing options.

“These are unprecedented rebates that the marketplace has not seen before and may not see again after this program ends,” said Sue McAlpine, program director for BetterBuildings for Michigan. “Anyone who is looking to make energy-saving home improvements by adding insulation or even going so far as replacing a furnace, now is the time to act, since once this program goes away, the audits will cost more and you won’t get the matching rebates or financing.”

There are 25 cities eligible to participate in BetterBuildings for Michigan, including Ferndale and Huntington Woods. The Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office (SEMREO) helps facilitate the program in metro Detroit.

“We’ve served over 3,000 homes, so there is definitely an interest,” said Gillian Ream, communications coordinator for SEMREO. “I think once people realize the real benefits of the program, they sign up.”

Participants pay a one-time $100 fee to sign up for the program and can expect to save significantly more than that on their energy bill in the first year. There are no income requirements to participate. Anyone who lives in a detached single-family home is eligible, including tenants who receive permission from their landlord. Landlords who sign up can receive a discount for auditing and upgrading multiple homes.

“Right now, we’re able to schedule people as quickly as a week (in advance),” Ream said. “We’re expecting to get a huge rush since this is the last month. We might end up scheduling some appointments into April or May, but we’re trying to get them done as soon as we can.”

BetterBuildings for Michigan was originally launched almost three years ago as a pilot program in four targeted areas across the state. One of those was a group of about 400 homes in Ferndale, where the program officially kicked off with a ceremony attended by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm in December 2010.

According to Joe Gacioch, project and grant coordinator for the city, about 40 Ferndale homeowners signed up for energy audits during the pilot program, and as of Feb. 22, 2013, 166 more had signed up to participate. Of those 166 homeowners, 36 have also completed additional home energy upgrades that will result in an average savings of $532 per year on their energy bills.

“You always want more people to sign up, but we’ve actually had pretty good participation so far,” Gacioch said. “This program gives people a great opportunity to evaluate their home and see what they can do to be more energy-efficient. As a city, we’re always trying to do everything we can to become more green and more sustainable, but a city is only as strong as its residents. I would encourage people to sign up for this program as soon as they can.”

Gacioch pointed out that the age of a community’s housing stock has a huge impact on the amount of energy savings that its homeowners could see from the program: a fact that is especially beneficial to an older city like Ferndale.

“Most homes that were constructed from the 1920s through the 1950s were not built with sustainability in mind,” he explained. “Construction standards were very different back then, but one of the coolest things about this program is that it gives people a lot of great tax incentives to follow through on those types of energy-saving projects.”

In Huntington Woods, 35 homeowners had signed up for a BetterBuildings for Michigan energy audit as of Feb. 22. Within that group, 14 have followed through on additional home improvements, bringing an average annual energy savings of $425. Public Works Director Claire Galed was one of those homeowners who participated in an audit, and she was impressed with the service that she received.

“They really do a nice of job of prioritizing things for you and showing you all the different things you can do to save on energy costs,” she said. “They were very thorough at my house and explained everything really well to me. It’s such a comprehensive audit, and that allows you to become a more knowledgeable energy consumer who is making decisions based on facts rather than relying on some sales pitch.”

As long as funding for BetterBuildings for Michigan does not run out, residents can still sign up for a home energy audit through the end of the month. The program aims to serve 4,000 homes across metro Detroit and has reached almost 3,200, as of Feb. 22.

The $100 fee includes the home energy audit and minor upgrades, which together would normally cost around $300 or $400. A Building Performance Institute-certified advisor visits each applicant’s home to identify and implement simple energy-saving upgrades. The whole process, including assessment and installation, takes about three hours.

The energy advisor’s tests include an air-leakage test, which uses a blower door and infrared camera to expose where the house is “bleeding” air and energy. The advisor also checks the stove, furnace, water heater, and other appliances for gas and carbon monoxide emissions, then installs basic energy-saving devices, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, a programmable thermostat, and up to two high-efficiency showerheads and two faucet aerators.

The personalized consultation also prioritizes later changes to be performed by one of the program’s licensed and certified energy contractors. The energy team will file the paperwork for applicants seeking financial assistance for future upgrades. Both DTE/MichCon and Consumers Energy offer rebates worth hundreds of dollars on selected projects. Those with a credit score of 640 or higher can take advantage of Michigan Saves, a group that helps Michigan homeowners pay for energy-saving upgrades through rebates and low-rate financing.

It all adds up to a program that Galed hopes more metro Detroiters will take advantage of before time — and state funding — runs out.

“A lot of people think that their house is fine the way it is,” she said, “but there are usually some things that can still be done to improve energy efficiency. You don’t necessarily have to take on big projects — there are plenty of simple, inexpensive things that can be done, too. And the value of one of these audits is just amazing. You’re getting a lot more than $100 of work done on your house, so it’s well worth the money.”

To sign up for a BetterBuildings for Michigan home energy audit, call (313) 566-4801 or visit www.mihomeenergy.org.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office is hosting a free energy education event at the Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois St., in Ferndale, from 6-8 p.m. March 25. Attendees will learn energy-saving tips and have one last chance to sign up for the program.

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