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Rutland County, Vermont

NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad

Location: West Rutland, Vermont
Seed Funding: $4.5 million
Target Building Types: Residential
Website: www.heatsquad.org
Learn More:

View Presentations:
Better Buildings Grantees: Retrofits in Low-Income Communities April 12, 2011
Making Efficiency Personal: A New Path to Community Engagement January 26, 2011

H.E.A.T. Squad Warms Homeowners up to Energy Efficiency

With the goal of helping households become more comfortable and energy efficient in a county that experiences seven winter months, NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWVT) is working with a growing list of energy professionals to bring the NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. (Home Energy Assistance Team) Squad to the residents of Rutland County, Vermont.

Background: Bringing on the Heat, Efficiently
Driving Demand: Neighbor-to-Neighbor Approach Builds Trust and Increases Participation
Financing: Efficiency That Pays for Itself
Workforce Development: Innovation Helps Grow the Workforce

Bringing on the Heat, Efficiently

Rutland County is known for its historic building stock. But these older homes can mean high energy bills for the residents of Rutland County, which has the highest foreclosure rate in the state of Vermont. In fact, although one family in particular appreciated the character and history of its country farm house, before seeking assistance from NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad the home was cold enough for the family to wear gloves at the dinner table.

When the H.E.A.T. Squad was called in to evaluate this home's energy efficiency potential, it confirmed that the house was leaking a significant amount of heat and in need of energy-saving upgrades. In the first few months after the upgrades, the family's home retained significantly more heat. But more importantly, during winter's coldest nights, family members no longer needed gloves indoors.

Neighbor-to-Neighbor Approach Builds Trust and Increases Participation

NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad has solicited volunteers to work directly with homeowners to spread the word about energy efficiency and upgrade information. The H.E.A.T. Squad gets the conversation rolling with homeowners about the benefits of energy efficiency, viable upgrade options, available financing, and reputable energy professionals in their community. H.E.A.T. Squad members also kick-start home upgrades by installing on-the-spot energy savers such as compact fluorescent light bulbs.

"With the H.E.A.T. Squad making house calls, homeowners not only get the feeling they are talking to a trusted neighbor, but they gain increased awareness of their energy use, receive concrete suggestions to significantly reduce their consumption, and learn about the benefits of implementing substantial energy efficiency upgrades," said Ludy Biddle, NWWVT's executive director. By increasing customer service through the H.E.A.T. Squad, NWWVT is working to empower residents to make energy efficiency upgrades to their homes.

The program has tapped volunteers to serve as "energy champions" in each town to help spread the word. The town of Shrewsbury, for example, hosted a phone-a-thon, piquing the interest of 192 residents for a $50 home energy evaluation that usually costs $350. Of these, 69 evaluations were conducted and 35 upgrades completed. The program also sponsors friendly competitions among the county's towns where the energy champions engage as many homeowners as possible to complete upgrades. There are financial incentives for those who make upgrades, and the two towns with the most upgrades receive assistance toward a municipal energy efficiency upgrade, school energy efficiency education, or similar effort.

Efficiency That Pays for Itself

Because the program is targeting households in a climate with a seven-month heating season that results in hefty energy bills, NWWVT is focused on making financing as accessible as possible. In addition to the $300 discount offered by energy professionals for home energy evaluations, NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad offers a 4.99% interest rate for loans up to 10 years. With the average home realizing $903 per year in savings from energy efficiency upgrades, typical monthly loan payments are often less than the estimated energy savings homeowners realize each month.

Innovation Helps Grow the Workforce

Within six months of the program launch in Rutland County, 13 energy professionals signed up to participate; and, as of May 2012, there were 16 active contracting companies participating in the program. NWWVT meets with these energy professionals bimonthly to share program updates, gather feedback, discuss concerns, and allow the energy professionals to share best practices with the group. As a result of the feedback received during these sessions, NWWVT held a Dale Carnegie sales training, a BPI certification training, and several weatherization skills trainings. Participation in the Dale Carnegie training and the BPI Certification Training was excellent and exit surveys indicated both trainings were "extremely worthwhile." It was a significant cost savings to hold the trainings at a local venue, and energy professionals learned new skills critical to their success. These bimonthly meetings have also produced a statewide collaboration of contracting companies to create a collective voice in state legislative issues.

To help sustain this growing workforce, NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad has created a temporary labor pool from which contracting companies can pull when they require the services of additional energy professionals. This allows the contracting companies to meet capacity demands before actually having to hire additional staff. NWWVT believes the ultimate success of this workforce initiative is achieved when a trained temporary laborer is hired by a contracting company, and this has happened on several occasions. In response to increased demand for energy upgrades, NWWVT is also offering low-cost loans for equipment required to expand contracting businesses to meet demand.

Contact

Ludy Biddle
lbiddle@nwwvt.org
802-438-2303 x 221

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program
BetterBuildings@ee.doe.gov