TC Saves program gives homeowners, contractors a foundation for energy efficiency
Through a program called Traverse City Saves, homeowners in neighborhoods in this Northwest Michigan town can learn what it takes to make their homes more comfortable and energy efficient, and be provided with opportunities for low-interest loans to have upgrades and remodeling done to their homes. This, in turn, opens up a new market for contractors willing to perform the recommended upgrades for homeowners.
TC Saves is a collaboration between the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Light and Power, and two local nonprofits, SEEDS and the Michigan Land Use Institute. It started out in two neighborhoods where older, less energy efficient homes struggle to beat back northern Michigan's harsh winters.
"We reached out to 1000 homeowners, and got commitments from 200," says Mike Powers, of the program which just launched last October. Powers is employed by SEEDS and is the project manager for the program.
Homeowners are initially made an offer that is hard to pass up: for 100 bucks they receive an energy assessment worth $1,000, including recommended home improvements along with tangible things like air infiltration sealing, a blower door test, compact fluorescent light-bulb installation and a programmable thermostat.
Folks who want to take the next step and have recommended upgrades done by a professional contractor can qualify for no-interest financing up to $20,000 through the state's Michigan SAVES program.
Jim Anderson, owner of James Anderson Builders is one builder who is part of the program. The program has helped him expand into the energy efficiency market and to also hire up to nine people to do energy audits and remodeling.
"It's a program that makes sense and gives us an opportunity to do something good for the community," says Anderson.
Traverse City Saves is primarily funded by the Department of Energy, which has committed funding until June 2013. After that date, proponents hope the program can become self sustaining, according to Brian Beachamp of the Michigan Land Use Institute, who assists with marketing the program.
"TC Saves has wide community support from a number of different groups and organizations including Traverse City Light and Power, the City of Traverse City, Traverse Area Association of Realtors, the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and many others," says Beauchamp. "It's a true model of collaboration that is serving homeowners and residents in Traverse City."
Nonprofit groups, such as the Land Use Institute and especially Better Buildings for Michigan, which provide marketing dollars for the program, play a vital role by selling the program to homeowners, who in turn hire contractors. Being able to make referrals to private contractors is what may enable the program to become sustainable when the grant funding ends.
"An energy summit on June 14 will look at different ways to bring local financing into the fold for the long term sustainability of the program," says Beauchamp.
Also partnering in this program are the Traverse City Fire Department, Traverse Area Association of Realtors, the Traverse City Housing Commission, the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, and the Oak Park and North Traverse Heights neighborhoods in Traverse City.
Neil Moran is a copywriter for business and nonprofit agencies and owner of Haylake Business Communications.