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When was the last time you took your car to a mechanic to look it over just in case he might find something that could use fixing? Never, of course. If you’ve got some bucks you can spare, you want to spend it to go to Hawaii, not to get the thingamadoodle in the innards of the engine working at peak efficiency. For the same reason, very few of us get energy audits on our homes. What? Spend hundreds of dollars on an audit so you can be told you need to spend thousands more on upgrades? Ouch.

But, but. If your house wasn’t blowing money out of drafty spots, you might save enough on utilities to actually go to Hawaii. Someday. But first you’ve got to pay for the upgrades. When Tom Appelbaum broached this subject at the Creve Coeur Democratic Township meeting, he asked rhetorically how many years it might take to get the investment back on a $7000 loan. Someone snapped right back with a facetious guess: “137 years.” Appelbaum and the other board members of Missouri Association of Accredited Energy Professionals (MAAEP) know that Missourians could cut energy use by thirty percent just by making energy efficiency upgrades, but they also know that it’s critical to help people spread the cost of the investment out over long periods of time, so that they can begin to see a positive cash flow from the improvements on day one. Otherwise? It ain’t happenin’.

‘Oh, is that all that’s needed? Well, okay,’ say the MAAEP members. ‘We can tell you how to do that.’

First of all, if you’re buying a home, look into an energy efficiency mortgage that will enable you to finance upgrades and pay for them month by month with your house payment. By doing so, you might add, say, $48 to your monthly payment–but perhaps save $80 a month on utilities. And besides the savings, your home would be more comfortable.

That’s fine for home buyers, but what about the rest of us? I’ve been in my home for 23 years, and we’re not looking to sell anytime soon. The house is 57 years old, and it’s far from efficient. There’s a bill in the Missouri legislature now, PACE for Property Assessed Clean Energy, that proposes allowing municipalities to opt to establish municipal bonds. Then property owners can apply to their municipalities for loans for energy efficiency upgrades. The loans would be amortized over twenty years and would be tied to the homeowner’s real estate tax. If the property is sold, the loan stays with the property because the improvements stay with the property. Like the energy efficiency mortgages, this setup would create a positive cash flow for the homeowner as soon as the upgrade was completed. It’s an idea spreading across the nation. Eighteen other states have already enacted similar programs.

I’ll follow the progress of that bill and report on it.

One more advantage accrues to homeowners from these upgrades: their property becomes more valuable. Because buyers want energy efficient homes, MAAEP has been working on a system to certify homes at various levels of efficiency, and they are talking to realtors in the expectation of establishing such certification as a marketing tool for realtors. A recent study done in Atlanta showed that homes certified as energy efficient sold more quickly than others and that the owners came closer to getting their asking price.

Tallying up the advantages so far then, we’ve got more comfortable homes that do less to contribute to climate change and that save us money on utilities. They are also worth more on the real estate market. Add to these benefits the fact that such upgrades will create a lot of jobs:

When you start thinking about how many houses are in Missouri and how many of these homes need energy audits and need energy efficiency upgrades, this is a trillion dollar industry over the next ten years. It’s a huge opportunity. And it’s money that we can throw away on utilities or we can invest in jobs and have people out there working to do this.

So. You ready to cough up $300-500 for an energy audit?

Blink.

I was afraid you might react that way.

But there’s little point in making improvements without one. If you don’t know for sure what needs fixing, you’re likely to just blow a lot of money. And people always assume it’s going to be the high dollar items, like windows, that need to be replaced. Actually, energy auditors are less likely to go there than they are to show you all kinds of little stuff you would never think about, like adding insulation around plumbing vent stacks.

You know you need the audit, and here’s great news: the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) will soon be receiving stimulus funds earmarked for exactly that purpose. Jim Trout, whom you may remember from his run for the state senate seat in Kirkwood in ’08, is now at the MDNR. He’s in charge of the program to dispense stimulus funds to homeowners to pay for energy audits. I’ll splash that news across the front page of Show Me Progress as soon as he tells me the funds are available.

And right after I post the news, the next thing I’m going to do is get in line for some funds.