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'TC Saves' Warms Homes, Cuts Energy Bills

Pioneering program provides low-cost weatherization, zero-percent loans

November 8, 2011 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Homeowner Evan Smith (left) and MLUI’s Brian Beauchamp observe a “blower door” test that measures the leakiness of Mr. Smith’s 106-year-old Traverse City home.

Evan Smith loves owning a home in Traverse City’s historic Oak Park neighborhood, but it comes with the challenge of heating and cooling the 106-year-old building without spending too much of the family budget on energy costs.

“I think anyone who has had an older home can appreciate that,” said Mr. Smith. “There are days when our furnace runs almost all day to maintain the temperature in the home.”

That is why Mr. Smith and other homeowners in Traverse City’s Oak Park and Traverse Heights neighborhoods are turning to a new program called TC Saves. The program offers families an opportunity to significantly cut their energy bills through a home energy assessment, weatherization, and zero-percent financing on major efficiency improvements.

The state-sponsored, city- and utility-administered program, which costs participants $100, provides them with a thorough analysis of their home’s energy use, along with exterior air sealing, a programmable thermostat, and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Those services would typically cost $1,000 or more.

Licensed contractors who specialize in building efficiency conduct the home analyses, which spot air leaks, identify dozens of other energy-saving opportunities, and show homeowners how to make their homes more comfortable. The contractors perform the exterior sealing and weatherization and install the thermostats.

Participants who then choose to make other, additional, major energy efficiency upgrades receive another big savings opportunity: zero percent financing and information on tax breaks and other purchasing incentives.

“It’s really a win-win situation for the homeowner,” said Max Strickland, a weatherization expert for one of the participating contractors, Anderson Builders. “I would suggest that homeowners in these neighborhoods seriously consider TC Saves.

“Energy is not going to go down in cost,” he added, “so the chance to save money is very good. There are also some really good deals available, including zero interest financing, and you are getting credible people to do the work.”

Homeowners in the two neighborhoods who are interested in the pilot program can get more information and sign up at the TC Saves website.

Brian Beauchamp, a policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute, said TC Saves is a partnership between the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Light & Power, and two local non-profits, SEEDS and MLUI. The goal is to helphomeowners and businesses save money, create a sustainable energy efficiency market, and create local jobs.

The program is part of a statewide pilot program that uses American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus) dollars. The pilot, known as BetterBuildings for Michigan, is part of the larger Michigan Saves project, and aims to help 11,000 Michigan homeowners and more than 130 businesses in Detroit, while creating more than 2,000 new jobs.

Mike Powers, of SEEDS, said the success of TC Saves will demonstrate that Traverse City “is a place to invest in and that Traverse City is going to be a leader in this area.”

For Mr. Smith, participating in TC Saves means—in addition to the energy analysis, weatherization, thermostat and light bulbs—zero-percent financing on a 10-year loan so his family can install heat-reflecting Energy Star shingles on his roof.

“Many of the things a homeowners wants to do—they don’t know how,” he said. “They don’t know where to begin. The real value for us is to be able prioritize what we can do ourselves and what we should have a contractor do to make our home more comfortable, livable, and affordable.”

Glenn Puit is a policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org.

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