April 24, 2014

Saving Green for Home Owners Going Green

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Saving Green for Home Owners Going Green

Fighting proposed home energy audits that would have been too expensive for low-income home owners, the Sacramento Association of REALTORS® developed a program to give them much-needed upgrades while saving them money.

California has been on the leading edge of energy efficiency, but in Sacramento, going green could have taken a lot of green out of the pockets of home owners who could least afford it.

In 2011, the city proposed requiring energy audits on homes as part of the state's Home Energy Rating System Program. The audits alone could have cost home owners more than $600 apiece in some cases, says Caylyn Brown, government affairs director for the Sacramento Association of REALTORS®.

"A mandated, expensive energy test to a home could price out first-time home buyers who are scraping everything they have together for the down payment and closing costs," Brown says. "It could potentially put them into the bracket of not being able to afford the home, while people with more money would have thought significantly less about a required energy test."

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Keeping home affordability and low-income families in mind, SAR came up with a program to take the place of the city's proposed energy audits while also being kinder to people's bottom lines. The association and the city's Air Quality Management District partnered with two local housing agencies, Rebuilding Together Sacramento and Sacramento Habitat for Humanity, to form the Home Energy Conservation Program. The program sends volunteers from the agencies to perform energy retrofits on homes in the city, specifically targeting the lowest-cost upgrades to keep the bill minimal for home owners.

"We determined that upgrading window caulking, door weather stripping, installing electrical gaskets, replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent, blanketing hot water heaters, insulating hot water pipes, and installing low-flow shower heads was the key to achieving this goal," Brown says.

Under SAR's HECP program, the cost to home owners for the upgrades averages less than $200, Brown adds. That's an easy $400 less than it would have cost under Sacramento's plan. HECP also targets low-income households for the upgrades.

"The people and families our program targets serves people that can’t afford even basic upgrades or any of the popular upgrades that come with incentives and rebates that are very popular in California," Brown says. "Plus, we get the added benefit that, for the families our program helps, the monthly utility bill savings means so much more to them than other people. After upgrades from the Home Energy Conservation Program, home owners can save up to $360 per year on utility bills."

Brown recalls one home owner in particular who benefited from the program. She was a single mother with two kids, and she was putting herself through graduate school. She lived in an older home that "leaked energy," Brown says, and her monthly utility bills were often around $500. HECP's upgrades were a lifeline for her.

"She was so grateful for our program and the potential savings," Brown says.

HECP has upgraded nearly 200 low-income owner-occupied homes since its launch in 2011. The program was recently granted a Sustainability Award at the 37th Annual Clean Air Awards, sponsored by Breathe America, a 100-year-old voluntary health organization in California. Watch the video at the top of this post to learn more about HECP's mission.

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