Energy efficiency: Easy home improvements take little time and make a big difference

I never expected to blog about insulation, water heaters or energy efficient furnaces. But expectations shift according to experience. And I had an experience that I would like to share. 

My fiance and I recently participated in a program called "Clean Energy Works." It's a pilot program (the first of its kind) that encourages homeowners to weatherize their homes using a low-interest loan that is paid back on the utility bill. And the best part? There are no upfront out-of-pocket costs. Everything was included in the loan.

I cannot say enough positive things about this program. Not only were the people we worked with professional from start to finish, it's an excellent concrete example of how we can create jobs that protect the environment.

Clean Energy Works was the brain child of Green For All, the City of Portland, and local stakeholders to create jobs, reduce pollution, lower energy bills, and expand business opportunities. Along the way this program, the program coordinators, contractors, crew and the participants have made insulation sexy. So sexy, the program is going statewide.

According to a recent article in the Portland Business Journal, the program created 29 entry-level construction jobs and provided some level of work for 381 professionals. The newly employed, through this program, helped 500 individuals and families cut energy costs - most participants saw a more than 30% decrease in energy use.  Due to its success, the program received $20 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy  to expand and is now projected to bring $100 million in private capital to communities across Oregon.

This video explains how the program works. A special thanks to Bernice and Jaime who were great to work with.

A little bit about our experience

Participation in this program was painless. We met with our lead contractor and energy advocate in January when they came to our house to do our energy audit. They walked us through all of the areas that could be improved: holes that should be sealed in the attic walls, adding insulation in our attic and basement. They explained why our water heater and furnace were no longer working as efficiently as newer models - even decomissioned our out-of-date knob and tube (this can be a huge cost to homeowners but it's now included in the loan).

After the walk-through, our energy advocate and contractor explained how each improvement could make our house more energy efficient and priced out estimates for us to review before we committed to moving forward. We wanted it all and we wanted it last year. We signed our contract, quickly moved through the loan application process in February, and by mid-March we were scheduled to begin renovations.  

A large team arrived early in the morning, made sure our floors and furniture were protected, and quickly and dillegently went to work. The team was courteous and respectful of the smallest detail - quick to fix flaking plaster or even make sure our cats did not escape through an open door or into the attic. In two and half days, our house was weatherized. An inspector came to make sure things were done right and that was it. In two and half days our house was made nearly 40% more energy efficient.

I was a little sad that our experience had come to an end, but I am consoled by the thought of money saved due to our lower energy bills, the joy of a warmer house as we await the arrival of warm summer weather, and the comfort of knowing that when those days come our house will be a little cooler.

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