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Energy efficiency makeovers for Michigan neighborhoods

A house set up with a blower door test. Energy auditors use this device to find out where the leaks are in your home.
Photo by Flickr user Brandon Stafford
A house set up with a blower door test. Energy auditors use this device to find out where the leaks are in your home.

Many homeowners just can’t afford the upfront investment to make their homes more energy efficient. And many programs meant to defray some of that cost haven’t gotten much traction with consumers.

But Sarah Cwiek reports the federal government’s “BetterBuildings” program is trying to change that. It’s just now getting off the ground in Michigan with money from the 2009 stimulus package.

Sarah visited Chris Matus at his Ferndale home on the day he was getting an energy audit from Well Home's Kent Trobaugh.

The guys set up something called a blower door test to find out where the leaks were in Matus' home.  Then they roamed the house with an infrared camera.  The screen shows a landscape of blurred colors: gold is heat, purple is cold. Matus says the whole exercise reminds him of a certain movie from the 1980s.

“It feels like we’re Ghostbusting.”

Matus is getting about a thousand dollars worth of work done on his house today. But it only costs him 50. That’s because he’s taking advantage of the U.S. Department of Energy’s stimulus-funded BetterBuildings program. Michigan got 30-million dollars—the second-biggest chunk of any state.

For 50 dollars, Matus is getting the energy audit and some basic weatherization: adding insulation, sealing cracks and stuff like that. Matus says he’d love to take advantage of some of the more advanced upgrades Well Home also offers. But in the short term, his goals are a lot more modest.

“It would be fun to be able to say I’m house on the block with a geo-thermal, new hip eco-energy system. But in the short term it’s cost. Anything I can find to help keep my utility bills down is good.”

Program organizers hope that promise of savings will hook more people like Matus into making at least some basic upgrades. The BetterBuildings program is targeting more than 11,000 homes in 27 Michigan communities over the next three years. This Ferndale neighborhood is the first pilot project; organizers hope to choose most of the rest through an application process.


Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.