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Financing Residential Retrofits

June 25, 2010 - 3:32pm

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Rancho Cucamonga, east of Los Angeles, received a $1.6 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block grant from the U.S. Department of Energy last year, using money authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Among the city's many uses of the Recovery Act funds are two different programs intended to encourage more energy efficient homes. One, the Home Improvement Loan Program, targets low-income residents who'd like to make major repairs or improvements in their homes. The other is the Energy Efficiency Reimbursement Program, open to any city resident who purchases and installs an energy efficient appliance.

"I think we wanted to have the biggest impact we could and assist the largest number of people, but focusing most on those in need and trying to help people who maybe wouldn't do improvements otherwise," says Tom Grahn, an associate planner for the city.

The Home Improvement Loan Program offers a loan to any Rancho Cucamonga homeowner who meets low-income qualifications and wants to improve the home's energy efficiency. This could be improvements to windows, air-conditioning, water heating and more. So far, the city has lent or committed to lending three-quarters of the $111,000 allocated, Grahn says. He expects the rest to be committed in six months.

Because they are geared to low-income people, these loans have no interest and no monthly payments. Instead, the loan is secured by the home. The city collects its repayment when the homeowner sells or refinances, and then plows that money back into the loan program. In this way, Grahn says, it should fund itself in perpetuity.

"Most of the people that would benefit from it wouldn't have the ability to make the payments in the first place," he says. "It doesn't impact them in any way and provides a great benefit to them."

Appliance rebates

Rancho Cucamonga's appliance rebate program is offered to homeowners of all income levels. Unlike the Home Improvement Loan Program, the Energy Efficiency Reimbursement Program ends when its funding runs out. That could happen fairly fast, because it's very popular with residents, Grahn says. That's despite the fact that the $500 rebate offered won't generally cover the entire cost of purchasing and installing the appliances covered. Eligible appliances are certain energy-efficient fixtures such as a new water heater, dishwasher or solar photovoltaic panels.

"For budgeting purposes [over two fiscal years], we had to split the program budget in half because we didn't think we'd spend all program funds this fiscal year, and we've already received reimbursement requests for more than 50 percent of the funds," he says. "It's been very successful."

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