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Vermont Nonprofit Successfully Helps Homeowners Weatherize

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Vermont Nonprofit Successfully Helps Homeowners Weatherize

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Vermont Nonprofit Successfully Helps Homeowners Weatherize

Vermont Nonprofit Successfully Helps Homeowners Weatherize

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/349464144/349464145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Old houses that dot New England's landscape are often expensive to heat. A nonprofit housing agency in Vermont is using customer service to get homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now to Vermont, a state where weatherproofing a house can have serious benefits. But the high costs of carrying out those renovations put off many middle-class households. Now a nonprofit housing agency is harnessing neighborhood help to change that. And as Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, it's been a huge success.

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Ludy Biddle is the first to admit that getting people on a tight budget to weatherize their home is tough.

LUDY BIDDLE: The average cost of a project is $7,000. And that's $7,000 that's going into the basement and the attic in many cases, which isn't a very sexy way to spend money.

KECK: It's a challenge everywhere in the country. But Biddle, head of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, a nonprofit housing agency, says those upgrades can save the average, local homeowner nearly a thousand bucks a year in heating fuel. That's money she says people in this rural, working-class part of Vermont really need. So when NeighborWorks won a four-and-a-half-million dollar federal grant four years ago to boost weatherization and create jobs, they started by ramping up outreach and discounting home energy audits.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Laughter) That's great.

GILBERT: Hi.

WOMAN #1: Hi.

GILBERT: This is NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, here representing our NeighborWorks heat squad. Are you a homeowner?

WOMAN #1: I am.

KECK: At the West Rutland Farmers’ Market, efficiency is now on display, right next to heirloom tomatoes and maple syrup. NeighborWorks' Sara Gilbert signs up a steady stream of shoppers for energy audits.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, thank you very much.

GILBERT: Sure. Should I have Laurie give you a call?

MAN #1: Oh, did I write - yeah, have her give me a buzz.

GILBERT: OK. Great.

KECK: Gilbert says staff outreach like this is has been vital in getting their message out, but she says passionate, well-connected volunteers in nearly every town in the county have done even more. Marcie Tanger of Mt. Holly, for instance, saved thousands weatherizing her home and now cajoles her neighbors to do likewise that local concerts in the town's annual Cider Fest.

MARCIE TANGER: I do. I walk around with a clipboard talking to people, and because I live in town, I know most people and who lives here.

KECK: Retirees Ann and Russ Lattuca of Wallingford say it was a friend who talked them into retrofitting their home.

ANN LATTUCA: And he says, you know, it's really a good deal. They give you a low interest loan, and it's easy to pay off. And they work with you, and we found that to be very true.

KECK: Organizers say the program works because most people save more each month than the cost of their loan payment. And that makes it possible for families who might not otherwise qualify for a traditional loan to get financing. Green Mountain Power, Vermont's largest utility, now allows customers to roll loan payments into their monthly power bills. Ludy Biddle says it's all about making the process easy.

BIDDLE: We often go to the house and let the dog out and let the contractor in, if that's what it takes for a working person to get this done at their home.

KECK: In 2010, only 26 households in Rutland County had undergone efficiency upgrades. Today Biddle says proudly they're nearing 900, with 60 percent low to moderate income. Megan Billingsley consults with efficiency programs across the country and says NeighborWorks should be proud of those results.

MEGAN BILLINGSLEY: The low- to moderate-income market is just traditionally a very hard market to serve.

KECK: Billingsley says NeighborWorks' blend of innovation and common sense is impressive, but she says hands-on programs like theirs can be costly. Ludy Biddle considers it money well spent. A 2013 study done by the Cadmus Group, which evaluates efficiency programs nationwide, may back that up. It found that for every $1 invested in the NeighborWorks program, a $1.72 was returned to the community. For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.

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