Affordably efficient.

This spring we were fortunate enough to score a Green Home Loan from Community Action Agency. This is a little-known program that is simply fantastic. I can’t imagine why word hasn’t spread like wildfire. Applicants with an OKC zipcode and a household income below $100,000 a year can qualify for up to $10,000 of a 3-year, 3% interest loan.

This loan can be used for pretty much *anything* that will increase the energy efficiency of your home - a broad playing field indeed. The loan can help you replace appliances, HVAC systems, and old windows. It can go towards weatherizing the house, adding insulation, installing programmable thermostats or solar panels. You could get a cool roof or a heat pump.

Like many middle class families, we have a nice, solid house but it is not a new house. More things break in any given month than we can afford to fix. We prioritize. Things that will cause further damage (plumbing, wiring, etc) win; things that would just be nice to repair lose. Things that are due for replacement but still work with duct tape and a good kick, we keep. For us, this loan was mana from heaven. So here is how we went about it and what the results were.

I saw a brochure for this loan at the State Fair and called Community Action Agency to inquire about it. They gave me a short phone interview to find out if I was eligible and then sent me the loan application. The application process was quick and easy and the people at Community Action Agency are all super nice and helpful. I turned the application around as quick as I could and before long we had a meeting with them to explain the process. We were to get a home energy audit, turn in the results, and select our projects. CAA would then write a proposal for our projects and put it out to bid to a list of approved contractors. The contractors would schedule a time to look at our house and then submit the bids to CAA, who would send a copy of the bids to us. Although these contractors had all been screened by CAA, we still had the ability to quiz them on our own and we were under no obligation to go with the lowest bidder. From the pool of contractors, we were able to choose whoever we liked as long as they followed due process. We could even invite contractors who were not on the list to bid (which we did), and they could put their hat in the ring if they met eligibility criteria. It made us feel good that, as new home owners with little experience on technical aspects, CAA had our back and did the homework we didn’t even know we should have done to make sure we had skilled, honest contractors.

After choosing our contractors, we signed our loan paperwork (also painless) and scheduled the work. When the work was done, CAA sent an inspector to our house to make sure it was done correctly. Three things were not just so, and the contractors came out a second time to fix it. We signed paperwork saying that the work was completed to satisfaction and started our monthly loan payment, happy as two clams.

Maybe as happy as the two happiest clams ever, because we learned a lot of good information about energy efficiency, how to weatherize and care for our house, and how to screen contractors. We did something good for the environment. We replaced laboring equipment that we could only have paid for after it had broken completely, which would have caused the home warranty to kick in. We did improvements that we may never have been able to pay for at all. I am already seeing a drastic reduction in our energy use.

So here is what we did:

1) We replaced our furnace and air conditioner. Our original units were installed in 1985, and the old a/c was a half-ton too small to properly service our house. During the heat of summer, our a/c ran non-stop 12 hours a day to keep our home at 80 degrees. The house was not at 80 because we were saving money, it was because the a/c COULD NOT make the house cooler. The old furnace was ok, but it had already broken once since we’ve moved in, causing structural damage.
2) We got a spiffy, easy-to-use programmable thermostat. (We had tried to buy one ourselves the year before, but the model we got was too much of a pain and we eventually gave up on it)
3) We added another 6” of blown cellulose insulation to our attic, which had previously been below the recommended R value.
4) We had two vents installed in our attic. Apparently we had none. Apparently this is bad.
5) This was not paid for by the loan, but our energy auditor told us how we could get the biggest return on our investment by sealing our overly-leaky house. Then he told us how to do so. We could have included this in our loan, but because the tasks involved seemed simple and inexpensive, we chose to do them ourselves. I have spent a lot of time on this and although I am not completely done yet, I have completed most of it.

The work on our house was done in May. I was able to get most of the weatherizing done in June. And the result in our energy bills so far? Well, last year, to keep the house at 80 degrees, our June electric use was ~1600 kWh. This June? The weather this June was much hotter than last June, and we kept the house at 74 degrees. Our electric use was ~1300 kWh. MyOGEpower.com tells us that for people in comparable homes, we have gone from being above-average energy guzzlers to below-average energy users. I feel like throwing a party.

1 comment:

Michael Kimball said...

My name is Michael Kimball, and I'm a reporter with The Oklahoman here in the city. This is pretty interesting, and I think I'd like to do a story about it to get the word out. Can you give me an e-mail or a call today if you get a chance? mkimball@opubco.com, 474-3948.