Program aims for energy efficiency everywhere

Available federal incentives for going green expanded to all Seattle homeowners

Program aims for energy efficiency everywhere

Program aims for energy efficiency everywhere

   Sid Johnston’s brick, Tudor-style home has Old World charm. Prior to last year, it also had Old World insulation (i.e., little or nonexistent) and drafty, single-pane windows. Warm air escaped, and cold air seeped in.

Johnston and his wife knew they had to renovate, and Johnston said he heard rumors of money being available for insulation. In fall 2010, a flier showed up on his doorknob advertising Community Power Works insulation services and winterization.

“It was obvious from testing that we had a real problem in our house, and we knew that,” Johnston said. “We were always cold in the wintertime.”

The Johnstons became one of the first Seattle households to work with the expanding Community Power Works (CPW) program, which is funded by the federal government to promote energy-efficient upgrades through six different programs. 

The home program was originally tested in Central Seattle and the South End but was expanded to all of Seattle in January.

The goal is to improve energy efficiency among homes and businesses, creating jobs for local, green contracting companies. 

Grants awarded to the City of Seattle by the federal Better Buildings program encourage local contractors and workers to build a market for energy upgrades.

“To have an impact on the industry the way the program is intended to and making it easier to meet those goals meant expanding it so there were more opportunities across the city,” said Ruth Bell, manager of the CPW consulting team and employee of Cascadia Consulting Group.


Help with renovations

For homeowners, CPW acts as a go-between, helping residents plan out their renovations. In addition, it helps develop a green market by promoting energy-efficient lifestyles and developing a market for contracting work in energy efficiency.

“CPW aligns with our goals,” said Callie Ridolfi, managing director of ecoFAB, a CPW contractor. “We’ve always been focused on making the connections between healthy homes and new, green jobs.” 

Homeowners who are interested in energy-saving renovations may apply to the home program on-line and complete a home-energy evaluation. Seattle City Light subsidizes 75 percent of the audit.

“Usually people are surprised,” said Charlie Rogers, an energy auditor for CPW and employee of Habitat Home Energy Specialists. “Even folks who know a lot about their houses are usually pretty impressed by the level of detail and sophistication of the inspections.”

Then, homeowners choose what types of upgrades they wish to have in their home and bid on a contractor. Some contractors, like ecoFAB, act as general contractors for homeowners, fixing furnaces and replacing windows, in addition to energy upgrades.

“If you have a contractor who is also doing an audit for you, they would be able to give you a bid at that time for some of the work,” Rogers said. Otherwise, CPW helps homeowners find a contractor.

Once a contractor is selected, renovations take about two to four months.

At the end of December 2011, 87 homes were completely renovated or were in progress. More than 760 homeowners applied to the program, and more than 280 homes are currently in the bidding process.


Just getting started

CPW was launched in November 2010, working on large, commercial buildings, hospitals and city buildings. Programs for residences, small-business buildings and multifamily units were added later.

The U.S. Department of Energy designated Seattle as one of 25 cities to receive funding for energy savings in April 2010. Seattle received $11.3 million for financing on the homes, rebates and CPW program management.

Only $2.12 million has been spent to date.

Even with incentives and grants, Bell wasn’t sure that many homeowners would want to spend that much money on renovations. However, the program — and homeowners’ willingness to leverage their personal financing for renovations — has exceeded her expectations.

“It’s an expensive proposition, but people aren’t shying away from that,” Bell said.

According to CPW’s website, if one home cuts back at least 15 percent of its energy usage in one year, the homeowners can receive rebates that are applied to the overall costs of renovation. Homeowners can save between $1,250 and $2,500 on their renovation.

“We had about a 25-percent improvement in our energy cost that [auditor Charlie Rogers] could detect with a test,” Johnston said. “And when the job was done, we had a physical confirmation of the fact that the house was warmer.”

Homeowners also have access to financing, rebates and incentives. Loans are available through CPW, and payments are added on to a homeowner’s Seattle City Light bill each month. 

CPW aims to provide energy upgrades to more than 2,000 homes by June 2013. While Bell said she doesn’t see the program expanding outside of Seattle anytime soon, she thinks similar programs will begin to develop.

“It is very possible that utilities will take on programs like this,” she said. “People are pleased with the results, and it goes way beyond what they do it for.… They end up with a home they are much more comfortable in.”

As for Johnston, he is very happy with the work that Raatz Construction and Atmosphere IEM did in his home. He admitted it was a little slow at the beginning to get through the paperwork. But once the workers arrived at his house, “things moved.”

“I got the feeling that people loved their work, and it was expressed in the easiness and lack of tension,” Johnson said. “I really appreciated that.”

To apply for an energy audit and renovations through Community Power Works, log on to the website at, or call (206) 449-1170.

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