Things just got easier for people who want to make their homes more energy efficient.
On Tuesday, Eagle County Commissioners agreed to set up a revolving loan fund - Energy Smart Partners LLC - with Pitkin and Gunnison counties as part of the tri-county Energy Smart program.
Energy Smart is being funded through a $4.9 million federal grant and provides citizens access to information, financing and energy-efficiency professionals.
Joe Rowan is tabbed as the executive director of the Energy Smart Partners fund, which has $985,000 of grant money to be used for low-interest loans of up to $25,000 for people making energy improvements.
"We're able to offer this at a lower interest rate and for a more focused purpose than what a regular bank would," said Adam Palmer, Energy Smart's program manager.
Energy Smart's aim is to achieve a 20 percent or better energy savings in at least 10 percent of existing residential housing in the tri-county region over a three-year period. The bigger goal of those energy savings is to stimulate jobs and the economy.
It works like this, a homeowner signs up for a building assessment for $50 and a certified analyst is sent to the home. The analyst checks the building's energy efficiency and makes recommendations for improving it. If a homeowner opts to follow through with any improvements, Energy Smart has a list of qualified contractors who can do the work. Various rebates and direct installments are also available.
The idea is that the more people are able to invest in the improvements, the more money and energy will be saved and construction jobs created. In Eagle County, Energy Smart has certified eight contractors as building analysts and registered 16 contractors as qualified to make energy improvements.
Now, with the revolving loan fund, Energy Smart has a streamlined process to lend money to homeowners making improvements. People who previously couldn't afford the work might now be able to. That translates as jobs for contractors, who can now be paid directly from the loan fund after a homeowner signs off on the work that was done.
The loans carry interest rates as low as 3.75 percent and are mostly unsecured, Rowan said.
Palmer anticipates most loans will be in the range of $5,000 to $10,000.
"It will be first come, first served," he said. "The $985,000 is for all three counties and we're looking at dispersing the majority of that within the next year."
The hope is that Energy Smart will be able to continue growing long after the grant money is gone. By helping people with the up-front costs of energy improvements - which should save them money in the long run - they'll hopefully be able to pay back the loans with interest and keep the program going. In the meantime, jobs are immediately created and contractors are paid sooner than later.
"When you extrapolate up to 10 years, the savings are obvious," Palmer said of energy improvements. "Our goal is to keep this going in perpetuity."
So far, the program has done 1,225 home assessments in all three counties and 597 of those have translated into home improvements. Now that the loans are potentially cheaper and more accessible, the assessment-to-improvement conversion rate is likely to increase.
"We don't compete with banks," Rowan said. "We serve a niche that is harder for banks to serve."
To learn more about Energy Smart or sign up for a home assessment, visit http://energysmartcolorado.com or call (970) 328-8777.