Durham Offers Home Energy Savings Program

Durham residents eligible for up to $1,600 in home improvements

A volunteer with Clean Energy Durham shows a group of Duram residents how to caulk around an air register during a Do-It-Yourself workshop last spring. Durham's Home Energy Retrofit Program offer similar improvements which can help save money. Photo cour

Duke employees who live in Durham and want to save money on heating and cooling bills can receive help from the City of Durham in the coming months.

The city is accepting applications for its Home Energy Savings Program, which offers heavily subsidized, professional retrofits to heating and cooling systems, attic insulation and low-flow faucets in Durham homes. With about 21,000 faculty and staff living in Durham, Duke employees comprise nearly 10 percent of the city's population. To be eligible for the program, homes must be single or two-story and 2,300 square feet or less.

About 380 Durham homes have already been retrofitted, which, under the program, includes services such as sealing air leaks, installing digital programmable thermostats and attic insulation, bringing attic insulation up to code and more. Participants in the Home Energy Savings Program pay a one-time $400 fee, and the city pays up to $1,600 for the work. Funding for the program comes from about $1.2 million in federal grants.

"We know that about 95 percent of houses in Durham could use some of the things we offer in our program," said Tobin Freid, sustainability manager for Durham. "With about 20 percent of energy spent heating and cooling air wasted through leaky ducts, there's bound to be a way for us to help residents save money."

Freid said that the average annual energy bill in Durham is $1,594 and with work performed through the energy program, that average household would save $318 each year.

Donna Dyer, director of career services at the Sanford School of Public Policy,  participated in May in Durham's Neighborhood Energy Retrofit Program, a precursor to the Home Energy Retrofit Program, which is the program currently accepting applications. Dyer said there was no downside to participating and estimates she's already saved more than $100 on energy costs.

"You know you're using less energy and you're saving money, so it really was a no-brainer," she said. "Not only that, but it improves the value of your house and it's good for the environment because less energy is produced and consumed."

Freid, the sustainability manager for Durham, said that funds for the program will allow for about 300 more homes to be accepted into the retrofit program. After an application is submitted, a contractor from a local company or the city will visit a property to determine work that needs to be done. A homeowner or landlord isn't required to pay $400 until after an initial assessment is done and work is agreed upon.

"The good thing is that at the prices we offer, it would be very hard to replicate that kind of bargain," Freid said. "It's a really good deal for Durham, homeowners and the environment."