A nearly 100-year-old South Hill home on 36th Avenue now has its carbon footprint rating.
The residents, a couple in their 70s, hope to stay in the house another 10 years and cut living expenses, such as reducing the $800-a-year bill for oil heat. After paying a $95 energy audit fee, the couple had two consultants from SustainableWorks, a nonprofit that has conducted more than 485 of these energy audits in Spokane, spend half of a late August day testing their home's energy use. The testing included the home's heating system, water heater, insulation, and the volume of air that escapes its doors and windows.
After calculating the data, SustainableWorks gives customers such as this couple an assessment of energy upgrades that can save money, any utility company rebates that apply, and a cost estimate for the improvements.
It also offers the option to hire SustainableWorks as a nonprofit contractor to do some or all of the work, and tells what portion of those improvement costs would be covered by the nonprofit's own taxpayer-funded energy saving incentives if clients contract with them.
"That would be on top of what Avista offers, and state and federal tax breaks," says Luke Tolley, Spokane organizer for SustainableWorks.
In addition to its 485-plus audits, SustainableWorks has completed 108 energy retrofit jobs in the city of Spokane.
SustainableWorks is using a $4 million Community Energy Efficiency Program Grant to retrofit up to 2,000 older homes and small business sites in moderate-income neighborhoods in Spokane, Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties through 2012.
Founded in Spokane during the fall of 2009 with federal stimulus funding, the nonprofit is now headquartered in Tukwila, Wash., but it still employs five at its office in the lower level of Liberty Park United Methodist Church, at 1526 E. 11th. They include Tolley, who does outreach and marketing work, a project manager, and an energy auditor-consultant, as well as two part-time employees, one in office administration and another handling weatherization and carpentry.
The nonprofit also taps into a pool of about 15 Spokane-area contractors, such as experts in heating and air-conditioning, for the energy retrofit jobs, Tolley says. "We're looking for solar contractors right now to expand what we're doing," he adds.
The nonprofit's model is to help homeowners, renters with owner approval, and small businessestypically those located in retrofitted homesmake improvements that reduce their energy use. In addition to its energy incentives, the organization also offers people low-interest financing through a loan program administered by Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union for those who qualify.
"Either the homeowner pays out of pocket for whatever's not paid from federal stimulus dollars, or we work with them on low-interest loans," Tolley says. "We break down the barriers that keep people from doing energy improvements."
Plus, some people opt to do only a few of the improvements.
Tolley says, "It could be anything from a couple hundred dollars of insulation on up to $20,000, based on the total energy recommendation."
He says its audits with consultation normally would cost $400 to $600, but because of the stimulus funding and partnering with Washington State University Extension, Avista Utilities, and the city of Spokane, SustainableWorks has offered them for $95. However, effective Oct. 1, the nonprofit will go to a $195 audit fee, says Kellie Stickney, SustainableWorks' outreach manager, because the program's federal stimulus dollars are dwindling.
Customers who pay the energy audit fee receive consultation on furnaces, water heaters, insulation, windows, and air sealing. The audits provide an energy performance score, or carbon footprint, similar to the miles per gallon rating for cars, Tolley says. SustainableWorks follows industry standards for energy efficiency set by the national Building Performance Institute, he adds.
SustainableWorks' audit calculations are plugged into a computer model for a comparison to similar-sized homes, and what a national average of energy use would be for the number of residents, as well as the projected new carbon footprint with improvements.
"Usually our target is an older-than-1980 home, but we tell people, if it's newer and it feels drafty, and you feel you're paying too much on your energy bills, then we want to talk to you," Tolley says. "Right now, we're working entirely in just the Spokane city limits, but we hope very soon to expand out to more of Spokane County."
While mainly focused on residences, SustainableWorks has serviced a handful of other nonprofits and churches. It also can do work for a small business in a converted home or historic structure using residential-type equipment for heating and hot water use, Tolley says.
He says the nonprofit's services differ from similar programs offered by Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP), which does free energy audits and home weatherization programs for low-income residents who qualify. SNAP also manages heating assistance programs.
SustainableWorks will work with Spokane residents or small-business owners regardless of income level, Tolley says. The nonprofit asks on its application, though, whether the owners might qualify as a low-income household, and if so, it refers them to SNAP, he says.
Part of SustainableWorks mission is to create jobs for people who do the energy audits and the contractors it hires to make improvements, he adds. The programs started by targeting specific neighborhoods, in part to pool resources and also to get the most competitive quotes from the contractors and vendors that the nonprofit taps for the retrofit projects its customers request.
"We focused first in the South Perry neighborhood, then northwest Spokane neighborhoods, and in February our outreach focused on the entire South Hill," Tolley says.
In addition to the audits and upgrades, SustainableWorks fills out paperwork required for energy rebate incentives and tax breaks, he says.
He says the Washington State University Extension Energy Program provides oversight and administration of the funding for SustainableWorks.
From the 108 Spokane retrofits it has performed, the nonprofit calculates an overall $27,000 reduction in energy costs per year. It also estimates that for the customers who've completed upgrades through the program, they're now saving up to 40 percent on their energy bills.
While the nonprofit is funded until 2012, Tolley says that SustainableWorks is working to secure additional grants and funding that will enable the nonprofit to continue.
"As with most stimulus-funded programs, our funds will run out the end of this year, or the beginning of next year," Tolley says. "We're looking for additional funding sources. We'd like to continue doing what we do."
He says the nonprofit currently is working on a grant to do more education, helping people understand what is energy efficient and what isn't. Northeast Spokane will be an upcoming focus because the organization hasn't done any work there. For this fall, it also hopes to reach the West Central neighborhood, Browne's Addition, Peaceful Valley, and Hillyard.
"Our typical customers are more green-minded," he adds. "We also have older people looking to be more comfortable in their homes, and also on the South Hill, we're seeing younger families, and they want to get their older homes upgraded."
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