Share this article

print logo

State program helps make homes more energy-efficient

Denis and Mary Uminski knew they needed to do something about their drafty Village of Kenmore house.

Their two-story, three-bedroom Colonial would get cold at night, and during the day the heat was unevenly distributed.

So when Rachelle Moses of PUSH Green showed up at their door to tell them about a state program in Erie County that could inexpensively weatherize their home, and also included a thorough energy assessment, the couple eagerly signed up.

The Uminskis wound up having wood cellulose insulation blown into all the walls, the second-floor ceiling and attic floor. The doors and the areas around windows and door frames were also sealed to keep air leaks out.

“As a result, the house has been warmer this winter. I don’t have the drafts I had before, and I’m very happy with what they did,” Denis Uminski said.

For the program, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA for short, is partnering locally with PUSH Green, a division of PUSH Buffalo, to make homes more comfortable, lower energy bills, reduce the carbon footprint, promote sustainability and create local jobs in the green field. It was launched in January 2012, and was made possible through Green Jobs, Green New York legislation that PUSH members played an integral role in developing.

Kenmore was chosen by PUSH Green to be the first area it concentrated on, in the belief that the predominantly middle-class area, with many seniors, would allow participation by a community that didn’t generally qualify for free grant-based assistance or have the ability to write a check at will for a new high-efficiency furnace.

Through the program, homeowners making under $132,000 are given a free comprehensive home energy assessment, and can choose to pay for energy-efficiency upgrades through on-bill recovery financing from an existing utility bill. The low-interest repayment is based on projected energy savings.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to help yourself, help the economy and help the environment. There are so many positives about this program,” Moses said.

Homeowners have to qualify for the program, and there are several ways to do that. Assistance grants are also available for people who are in the low-income range. Bundling several homeowners together lowers the cost for the contractor and results in a savings for customers.

The bill stays with the house if the homeowner moves away, just as the energy-efficient furnace that reduces costs remains.

PUSH Green works with eight home performance contractors that are accredited by the Building Performance Institute and have signed a contract with NYSERDA agreeing to a community benefits agreement. That pact requires contractors to pay workers family-sustaining wages, and sets aside 60 percent of the work for a diverse workforce.

Troy Gilchrist, owner of Acumen Installation and Coatings, has worked on nine homes for the program. He said the way it’s structured, including the support he has received, has helped him become a better businessman.

“I’m classified as a small emerging contractor, and they’ve helped with the administrative process and in communication between myself and the customer. There is also no discriminatory practices or favoritism – everybody gets a fair shake,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist said he also appreciates that through NYSERDA, he is paid within eight days of finishing a job – as opposed to the 30 to 45 days he said is more typical.

Uminski said it was the energy assessment that swayed him and his wife to go forward.

“This is not a rinky-dink audit. They use specialized instruments that can see air leaks and cold spots in your wall. When you get the audit, you know where you stand.”

Uminski also liked that the contractor looked for gas and carbon monoxide leaks.

“That’s a smart thing to do,” he said. “Here in the village, the inspector we have did an audit on one house and found serious issues with carbon monoxide or gas leaks. Had they overlooked that and sealed the house, there would have been a disaster.”

He also liked that the contractor checked throughout the house, including the dryer vent and bathroom exhaust fan, for air leakage. The contractor also measured the energy efficiency of appliances such as the furnace, stove and hot water tank, and compiled a list of recommendations.

Later, an auditor came by to test the effectiveness of the work using measuring instruments.

Two of the Uminski’s three daughters recently bought homes in Tonawanda and also had their homes insulated through the program.

Kate Howard, PUSH Green’s program manager, said community advocates like Moses are intended to be the homeowner’s ally by helping deal with the contractor and understanding the paperwork.

Uminski said Moses was a huge help throughout the process.

“Rachelle was great. She was on hand for at least one of the energy audits, and checked the house and my daughters’ homes while the work was being done,” Uminski said.

“They’re not only selling you on the program, but they’re following up. You have the assurance that you’re not the only one dealing with your contractor. If there was an issue I didn’t see, Rachelle would see it.”

Howard said the statewide program operates on a two-year contract that could expire at the end of the year, although she expects it to be renewed.

Still, she said, “You want to act now.”

For more information, call PUSH Green at 886-1780 or visit the West Side office at 456 Massachusetts Ave., Buffalo.