Many a homeowner knows the feeling: there’s a cold draft sweeping over the floors, wrapping its icy fingers around warm feet under the dining room table. And during winter months the heating bill arrives burning a smoldering hole in the budget.
Yes, something must be done – but where to begin?
About a year ago the Spokane Alliance launched a pilot project called SustainableWorks in the South Perry neighborhood, and as of today, that project has helped 25 homes in the area become more energy efficient through energy audits followed by energy-saving retrofits that come with big savings for homeowners.
“Yes, I’d say it’s been successful,” said Dave Sproull, project manager for SustainableWorks. “The people of Spokane really have good reason to be proud of themselves for this success.”
Lea Smith is one of the homeowners who has gone through the program, even though she lives just a little bit outside the official neighborhood boundary.
“What can I say? I’m tickled,” said Smith, sitting in her newly retrofitted home on Monday. “I can’t say enough good things about SustainableWorks.” Smith’s home was built in 1917 and she’s lived in it since 1977. Smith learned about SustainableWorks through an informational booth at the South Perry Farmers Market – she was curious and went to the open house last year.
“First they did the energy audit, and they do need your Avista records to do that,” said Smith. “It took about four or five hours and they were very thorough.” Even the audit comes at a discount: $95, compared to the usual charge of about $500 and it includes installation of compact fluorescent light bulbs and water preserving shower- and faucet heads.
Smith learned that she had very little insulation in her attic and there were many leaks through which heat escaped in the winter and cold got out in the summer.
“Once the audit is over, they give you a list of what they suggest you have done,” said Smith. “But at that time you make up your own mind as to what you want them to fix. It’s like eating a la carte. You can say, ‘I’ll take the furnace and the heat pump, but not the hot water tank.’ It’s totally up to you.”
Smith decided to have some bigger things done: the attic was rewired and properly insulated, she got a new furnace and a heat pump added to her hot water tank, and she had a lot of cracks and openings sealed around the house.
The work is just being finished, she’s eagerly awaiting her first power bill.
“It’s supposed to go down by about one-third, which means all this will pay for itself in about 10 years,” Smith said.
And not once did she have to talk to a contractor.
SustainableWorks takes care of that for Smith and all the other homeowners who sign up at the same time. Typically, 20 homes are retrofitted simultaneously, which lets SustainableWorks shop in bulk on the homeowners’ behalf, working some cheap deals.
A good furnace, for instance, ends up costing the homeowner $2,400 after rebates from Avista Utilities and a shot of federal stimulus money managed by SustainableWorks.
“Avista actually does a lot for its customers,” said Sproull. “But lots of people don’t know about the rebates. That’s where we come in. We figure that out for them.”
The nonprofit organization only uses local contractors who’ve been through training programs in energy efficiency.
“We are definitely pulling people off unemployment to do this,” said Sproull.
SustainableWorks is the brainchild of the Spokane Alliance, which is a group of churches, unions and other local organizations which, some years ago, decided it was time to look for ways to help the community save energy and create jobs at the same time.
SustainableWorks is neighborhood specific; it’s now moving to Northwest Spokane.
“We started by being citywide, but the neighborhood approach works much better,” said Sproull.
Today’s celebration is also an invitation to homeowners from the North Side to sign up for energy audits. Smith hopes to be there, too.
SustainableWorks is moving on to Northwest Spokane.
View Northwest Neighborhood in a larger map