Fayette County Better Buildings Initiative
Location: Fayette County, Pennsylvania
Seed Funding: $4.1 million
Target Building Type: Residential
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Workforce and Economic Development for BPI Auditing May 20, 2011
Re-Energizing Fayette County, Pennsylvania, With Better Buildings
As a rural community of approximately 150,000 with a history of coal mining, Fayette County in southwestern Pennsylvania has long had strong ties to the energy industry. The emergence and rise of mining brought significant wealth to the county's residents for decades, but the decline of the coal mines in the 1950s brought economic hardship.
With $4.1 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, Fayette County is focused on making significant energy improvements and creating jobs for under- and unemployed workers. Bringing together a broad array of partners, the Fayette County Better Buildings Initiative is taking a multi-pronged approach to transform an established weatherization program into a whole-home energy efficiency program and demonstrate a replicable and scalable strategy for energy efficiency.
Modernizing Homes, Patch by Patch
Most of the houses in Fayette County were built either before 1900 or in the early 20th century, with a large number built by mining companies to house their workers. Many have been passed down through the generations with few, if any, energy efficiency upgrades, resulting in homes that are cold and drafty.
Historically, there has been a long list of properties waiting for energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades in Fayette County. In the past, applicants had to wait up to 7 years before weatherization projects were completed, but the Fayette County Better Buildings Initiative is significantly improving the process. The program is focused primarily on increasing residential housing upgrades, providing energy evaluations, rebates, and improvements such as insulation and appliance replacements.
Communities known as "Coal Patches" are one legacy the coal mining companies left behind. These are settlements that companies built in the early 1900s through the early 1920s to house miners and their families. Because the houses in each "patch" are virtually identical, they serve as an ideal model of the difference energy efficiency upgrades can make. As part of its program, the Fayette County's Better Buildings Initiative will identify one patch as a pilot for the program, using it to test ideas and gather data.
Covering All the Bases
Fayette is educating users about the electricity they consume to help demonstrate the need for upgrades. The county is using all forms of marketing to reach residents and business owners, including social media, promotional materials (postcards and brochures), how-to videos, public workshops, public service announcements, email campaigns, and traditional public relations strategies.
Fayette County ran radio and television spots that were broadcast throughout the summer of 2011, including during Pittsburgh Pirates home baseball games, to motivate a broader audience and increase the impact of the energy efficiency pitch. In spring 2012, Fayette County ran two television spots on two different cable companies covering the entire county.
Developing a Clean Energy Workforce
The decline of the mining industry brought with it a rise in unemployment in the Fayette region. Job opportunities have been few and far between, with many residents either under- or unemployed. As of October 2009, the unemployment rate was 10.6%—slightly higher than the national average—and it was still at 10% a year later, even though rates in other regions across the country improved. 1, 2
Fayette County is working on reversing this trend. Through its Better Buildings initiative, the county is leveraging existing partners to usher in a new generation of clean energy workers. The Private Industry Council (PIC) of Westmoreland/Fayette is funding a program to train building contractors to become Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified at no cost to students. The training includes certification preparation for contractors to be BPI inspectors, as well as training in sales and business development to augment their technical skills. PIC is also offering a building envelope training program to graduates of the BPI certification courses.
PIC will deliver tools to help BPI inspectors start new businesses, including grants and low-interest loans to purchase computer software and professional equipment to find insulation in walls, gauge temperature, and conduct blower door tests. With training and certification in the energy efficiency industry, county residents have the opportunity to get not just any job, but stable and well-paying careers.
Investing In Fayette's Future
To help fund energy efficiency improvements, the county and its partners created a tiered financing/incentive program based on income. Each tier has its own incentives. Low income homeowners can access a full package of energy efficiency improvements at no cost. Typically, the improvements include insulation (attic, basement, crawl space, or possibly walls); furnace replacement; air sealing throughout the home; and high-efficiency refrigerator replacement. Homeowners can save $400 on their annual energy bills in just the first year with a typical energy reduction of 20-27%.
Middle income homeowners can qualify for a free home energy evaluation performed by a BPI certified inspector, plus rebates on energy improvements in the home. Other residents may qualify for rebates that cover the costs of an energy evaluation plus implementation of energy efficiency measures that achieve at least 15% energy savings.
Additionally, Fayette is offering an affordable financing program that can provide loans of up to $5,000 at interest rates as low as 0%.
U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program