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History

The Better Buildings Neighborhood Program was first announced by Vice President Biden as "Retrofit Ramp-Up" on April 21, 2010. The program presented initial awards of $452 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or Recovery Act) funding to 25 state and local governments to "ramp up" energy efficiency building retrofits. The Better Buildings Neighborhood Program then distributed a total of $508 million to support hundreds of communities served by 41 different programs. Funding of $1.4 million to $40 million per program was awarded through the competitive portions of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program ($482 million in Recovery Act funds) and the State Energy Program (SEP) ($26 million).

Background: ARRA and Recovery Through Retrofit

The Recovery Act allocated approximately $80 billion to projects related to energy and the environment, with much of this money targeted toward improving energy efficiency in homes and buildings. In addition to investments in building energy efficiency, Recovery Act funds are being used to support investments in smart grid and transmission, renewable and alternative energy, clean vehicles, and mass transit.

To ensure that the energy efficiency market will thrive long after the Recovery Act money is fully spent, on May 26, 2009, Vice President Biden charged the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) with developing a proposal for federal action that will grow green job opportunities and boost energy savings by upgrading homes to be more energy efficient. In October 2009, the Vice President's Middle Class Task Force released its proposal in the report "Recovery Through Retrofit." This report identified market and non-market barriers that have prevented the home energy upgrade market from achieving national-scale success, including:

  • Access to Information: Consumers do not have access to straightforward and reliable information that they need to make informed decisions about home energy upgrades.
  • Access to Financing: Homeowners face high upfront costs for home energy upgrades that often go beyond their average budget. Some homeowners are concerned that they will be unable to recoup the value of their investment should they choose to sell their homes.
  • Access to Skilled Workers: A shortage of skilled workers and green entrepreneurs is preventing the expansion of efficiency upgrades on a national scale.

To help address and test solutions to these barriers, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) created the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program.

DOE Funding and Awards

The Better Buildings Neighborhood Program implemented energy efficiency with speed and to scale in order to achieve significant results.

DOE issued two separate funding opportunity announcements to support Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners (Better Buildings partners). In October 2009, DOE issued the first competitive funding opportunity announcement (FOA), "Retrofit Ramp-up and General Innovation Fund Programs," using EECBG funds to provide grants to state and local governments for the purpose of testing potential energy upgrade business models and improving building energy efficiency across the country. The FOA closed in December 2009. DOE received 130 applications, requesting a total of $3.76 billion. In June and August 2010, DOE awarded $482 million to 34 grant recipients whose projects represent a diverse portfolio of energy upgrade approaches. In April 2010, DOE issued a second competitive FOA under the State Energy Program (SEP) for awards focused on "Strengthening Building Retrofit Markets." In November 2010, DOE awarded $26 million to seven SEP award recipients.

Better Buildings partners used the $508 million in competitive EECBG and SEP grant funding to leverage an estimated $1 to $3 billion from other sources to enable large-scale, self-sustaining energy efficiency upgrade and improvement programs for residential, commercial, industrial, and public buildings.

What Was the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program?

The Better Buildings Neighborhood Program was part of the Better Buildings Initiative—a program within DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) that is lowering barriers to energy efficiency in buildings.

The Better Buildings Initiative is helping to catalyze a building upgrade industry that can eventually be sustained in the private sector. To overcome several key challenges that have prevented the development of a self-sustaining building upgrade market on the national level, Better Buildings is:

  • Working with local and state governments, community organizations, and building contractors to provide homeowners and building owners with easily understandable information about energy efficiency benefits and how to obtain them.
  • Using federal funds to attract private sector investments, enabling financial institutions to offer affordable loans for energy efficiency where they have not previously been available to consumers.
  • Collaborating with local program partners to ensure that consumers have access to skilled energy professionals and that workers have the training and business skills they need to be successful.
Read the Program Fact Sheet—Better Buildings for a Better Future

Hundreds of Better Buildings partners around the country have helped homeowners, businesses, and institutions make significant energy improvements. To learn more, read the Program Fact Sheet—Better Buildings for a Better Future.

Watch the Video

Learn how Better Buildings partners started bringing the benefits of energy upgrades to their neighborhoods.

Funding

Using funds from the Recovery Act and annual appropriations, the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program provided one-time grants to states and localities in 2010. These entities worked with nonprofits, building energy efficiency experts, financial institutions, utilities, and other organizations to develop and incubate community-based programs and incentives to spur demand for building energy upgrades. This demand was met by private-sector energy efficiency experts and financial institutions, creating jobs and improving local economies.

Partner Grant Recipients

The program's 41 grant partners served hundreds of communities across the country. The partners share a common vision of creating a self-sustaining market for building energy efficiency improvements that resulted in economic, environmental, and energy benefits across the United States.

Better Buildings partners used a variety of innovative approaches to help building owners save money by saving energy through building upgrades―providing increased comfort for homeowners, lower operating costs for businesses, and local job growth. The grant funds  served as seed funding that enabled communities to develop the infrastructure for a self-sustaining energy efficiency market in the private sector.

Events

Read about the workshops, conference sessions, and partner events that brought together program partners and engaged communities nationwide about energy efficiency.

Newsletter

The Better Buildings Neighborhood View served as the official newsletter for Better Buildings Neighborhood Program stakeholders. Look back at past issues describing partner accomplishments.

Better Buildings Neighborhood Program Goals

Better Buildings communities used federal funds to help achieve the following goals by the end of 2013:

  • Develop sustainable energy efficiency upgrade programs
  • Upgrade more than 100,000 residential and commercial buildings to be more energy efficient
  • Save consumers approximately $65 million annually on their energy bills
  • Achieve 15% to 30% energy savings from energy efficiency upgrades
  • Reduce the cost of energy efficiency program delivery by 20% or more
  • Engage 10,000 to 30,000 contractors in work on energy efficiency upgrades
  • Leverage $1 to $3 billion in additional resources.

What's Next?

DOE is transitioning the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to a voluntary, national residential energy efficiency membership network. The Better Buildings Residential Network is open to past partners, as well as new organizations. To learn more, read the "Launching the Next Phase of the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program" presentation.