This winter may have been mild but with new windows and freshly insulated walls, Nicole Alexander was prepared to ride out even the most brutal of winter storms inside her five-bedroom home in the Meridian Kessler neighborhood.
Alexander is one of a couple dozen Indianapolis homeowners to participate in the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership's (INHP) EcoHouse loan program in the past year, which offers qualified participants up to $15,000 in loans to make energy efficient repairs and appliance upgrades.
"I love my home but it definitely needed work done, " Alexander said.
She had been interested in making her century-old home more energy efficient for a couple of years but was worried about the cost and daunted by figuring out where to begin. Alexander learned about the EcoHouse project while attending INHP's block party at Glendale Town Center last summer. Since she had previously taken homeownership classes with INHP, this program not only would enable her to afford the repairs, it also offered Alexander the backing of an organization she trusted.
Funding for the loans comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant that the city received as part of the 2010 Federal Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Mayor Greg Ballard's office approached INHP about partnering on the project in the fall of 2010.
Becca Harmon Murphy, the EcoHouse Project Manager for INHP, said the partnership was a natural fit.
"We're a well-known and well-trusted organization," said Harmon Murphy.
As a non-profit organization that has been helping Indianapolis residents become homeowners since 1988, she thinks INHP is also well poised to help Indianapolis residents maintain their homes.
"INHP has always been about making sure that when a person gets into a home they are prepared," said Harmon Murphy. In the wake of surging foreclosure rates in the financial crisis, INHP worked to prepare homeowners with the knowledge and tools necessary to stay in their homes.
"We've tried to develop products that go to the maintaining and sustaining side of homeownership," Harmon Murphy said.
Benefits to pocketbook and environment
Though helping people increase their energy-efficiency certainly has a positive environmental impact, INHP has focused on economics in their marketing for the EcoHouse project.
"For the majority of our clients it's about need," said Harmon Murphy.
Loans for the program are made available by a partnership from four banks —Huntington, M&I, Old National and PNC — each of which invested into a $6 million dollars loan pool. Program participants repay their loans to INHP who will in turn repay the banks.
INHP began accepting applications for the loan program in April of 2011. Qualified applicants must be Indianapolis residents who own and have lived in their own home for than a year, meet a minimum credit score of 580, and have an income level that is below 120 percent of the median income for their area.
After being approved by INHP for the loan last fall, Nicole Alexander received an energy assessment in which she learned that her energy savings would increase dramatically with insulation and three new windows. The assessor also helped her identify other ways to increase her home's energy efficiency, like using caulking to help seal in air.
"Even if I hadn't gone through with the repairs," she said, "I would have really learned something."
Susan Perkins, another program participant, whose North-side home was assessed last month agrees.
"It was really informative, " she said.
The assessment, which is conducted by Thermo-Scan Inc., includes a "blower-door test." The test consists of mounting a high power fan to a home's front door to lower the air pressure inside the house and allow high-pressured air to seep out through any openings, so that assessors can identify any cracks or openings.
"It reminded me of a ghost movie," Perkins said of the process.
In the course of her assessment, Perkins discovered that hail damage to her roof had caused moisture to build up in the attic of her house. She wants to make those repairs before she makes her energy improvements, but she is excited about not facing another drafty winter in her three-bedroom house that was built in 1940.
"I think it will make a really big difference," she said.
For Alexander it already has.
"The house just stays warmer," she said.
Peace of mind
Beyond the cost savings and the environmental benefits, what the EcoHouse loan program also seems to offer homeowners is peace of mind.
"When I saw INHP's name I thought it was a good program and wanted to get involved," said Perkins.So far, she has been "completely satisfied" with the experience.
Alexander has not been disappointed either. What she most appreciated about the program was thoroughness of both the energy assessment and the repairs themselves. She noted that the technician who insulated her walls and replaced her windows came to her home twice to inspect his work.
"I am not always sure what to do (about home improvement projects) so having professionals come in and place their seal of approval on everything really helps," she said.
Harmon Murphy sees this as one of the biggest selling points
of the EcoHouse project.
"You've got people on your side making it happen for you,"
"You can't ask for anything more," she said.
Indianapolis residents interested in the EcoHouse Project and think they may qualify for the loan can visit www.ecohouse.inhp.org to apply or call the program's loan coordinator, LaWayne Hunter, at 317-610-4652.
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