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Metro Detroit

March 13, 2013

Grant for energy-saving upgrades ends March 31

Discounted energy audit, matching rebates and financing options available

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

The end of the month marks the end of a golden opportunity for homeowners, tenants and landlords to save on energy costs.

BetterBuildings for Michigan is a statewide program backed by a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant ends March 31.

Through the program, one can receive a home energy audit and minor energy-saving improvements at a sharply discounted cost of only $100.

More significant upgrades can also have their cost defrayed by matching rebates of up to $1,500 or other special financing options.

“These are unprecedented rebates the marketplace has not seen before, and may not see again after the 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 involved, including Madison Heights, Hazel Park and Ferndale. The cities of Royal Oak, Warren and Dearborn were the most recent to join.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office (SEMREO) helps facilitate the program in the area.

“We’ve served over 3,000 homes, so there is 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 join BetterBuildings for Michigan and can expect to save more than that on their energy bill the first year.

There are no income limits. Anyone in a detached single-family home is eligible, including tenants who receive permission from their landlord. Landlords who sign up can even receive a discount for auditing and upgrading multiple homes.

“Right now, we’re able to schedule people as quickly as a week out,” 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.”

The $100 fee includes the home energy audit and minor upgrades, which together would normally cost somewhere in the ballpark of $300 to $400.

A BPI-certified advisor (Building Performance Institute) visits the applicant’s home for an energy assessment to see how the homeowner can save on energy costs by identifying and implementing simple home 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 applications for gas and carbon monoxide emissions.

Then the energy team installs basic energy-saving devices, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, a programmable thermostat that’s easy to operate, and up to two high-efficiency showerheads and two faucet aerators. Considering these upgrades would cost $150 or more on their own, officials say the $100 is justified.

The personalized consultation also prioritizes later changes to be made, done by one of the program’s energy contractors, each licensed and certified, including Blanket Insulation, Insulation Man, Walker-Miller Energy Services, Wellhome and more. 

These are assigned either on availability or if the homeowner  has a preference.

The next step is financing the upgrades. Both DTE/MichCon and Consumers Energy offer rebates worth hundreds of dollars on selected projects. The energy team even files the paperwork.

Those with a credit score of 640 or higher can take advantage of Michigan Saves, a group that helps Michigan homeowners finance energy-saving improvements. They provide financing of up to $20,000 at 7.00 APR.

In addition, program participants can choose one of the following four bonuses:

• The first option is for the program to match up to $1,500 of the rebates received from a participant’s utility company.

• The second option is for an instant $1,200 rebate when participants install home improvements projected to save 15 percent or more of their energy use.

• The third option is for 0 percent APR financing for up to 24 months from Michigan Saves to finance big-ticket items like a new furnace.

• The fourth option is to secure low-rate long-term financing on larger projects, with Michigan Saves financing as much as $20,000 at the reduced rate of 4.99 percent APR for up to 10 years.

“In Madison Heights, the average savings for home upgrades is $411 saved every year in energy costs,” McAlpine said. “That’s for the people who make improvements through this program. Now, who wouldn’t want an extra $411 in their pocket every year?”

To sign up for BetterBuildings for Michigan, visit www.mihomeenergy.org.

SEMREO will hold a free energy education event at the Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois in Ferndale, from 6-8 p.m. Monday, March 25. Attendees will learn energy-saving tips and have one last chance to sign up for BetterBuildings for Michigan.