Grand Rapids Couple Saves Big with BetterBuildings Program

Three years ago Ruth and Rodger Hitchcock looked into replacing the windows in their west side home. Although the contractor’s $35,000 estimate did not dissuade them entirely from the project, it did influence them to rethink their plan. Rather than have all the windows replaced at once, the Hitchcock’s decided to have the work—and the cost—spread out over time.

The change in plan proved fortuitous, ultimately saving the Hitchcocks more than $6500. Sometime after installing new sliding glass doors but before the next round of new windows, the couple received a letter in the mail. “It was from two city commissioners,” Mr. Hitchcock said during a telephone interview. “The letter described a program being offered to residents in our neighborhood. We thought it sounded interesting.”

Specifically, the letter came from First Ward Commissioners Walt Gutowski and Dave Shaffer. In it the commissioners were advocating BetterBuildings for Michigan, an innovative city-led, two-stage program designed to help people in Grand Rapids make their homes more efficient and more comfortable, first through a $100 complete home energy audit and then with discounts, rebates, and financing provided to help offset the cost of the recommended home improvements.

The BetterBuildings program seemed like a good deal to the Hitchcocks, almost too good, particularly the 20% discount and the 10-year 0% financing offered on all qualifying work. That word came from city commissioners rather than a door-to-door window salesmen helped ease the Hitchcocks skepticism. Still they were not convinced.

Mr. Hitchcock explained: “We felt like we needed more information to verify the program. So we put a call into the city hall switchboard and were transferred to BetterBuildings regional coordinator Selma Tucker. Selma was terrific. He explained the merits of the program and helped us begin the registration process.”

Just a few weeks later the Hitchcocks received a visit from WellHome, an area contractor working with BetterBuildings. During the energy audit, Mike Youngblood, crew leader, discovered several areas in the Hitchcock house where efficiency could be improved. For example, Mike found many “breaches” in the home where heated or conditioned air was escaping from the living spaces.

“We have twenty recessed lighting fixtures,” Mr. Hitchcock said. “When Mike negative pressurized the house [a standard part of the audit], he showed us that attic air was infiltrating every one of them. Air was also coming in around the fireplace column and even through the light switches. It was eye-opening. I would have never guessed how many air leak sources a house can have.”

Mike and his team also quoted a price for complete window replacement. For the same brand, style and quality of designer windows, the price quoted by WellHome was over $4100 less than the estimate from three years ago.

When all was said and done, the Hitchcocks purchased new windows, a new front door, and had a new bathroom fan installed. They had the gaps sealed behind the recessed light fixtures and radiant barriers installed around the fireplace and above the stairway chase. In the attic, new corrugated soffit baffles were installed and insulation was blown in. All this was in addition to many smaller fixes, like new high-efficiency light bulbs and new seam sealing for the furnace ducts.

Mr. Hitchcock believes the work has already made a difference to the home’s overall efficiency. To prove it he offered this example: “Our furnace is programmed to come on at 6:00 in the morning and turn off at 7:30 am. It used to be that our furnace cycled on and off frequently just to maintain the low temp setting for the rest of the day. Now it hardly comes on at all. It’s after 12:00 pm and I haven’t heard it operate at all today. Not once. I’m very impressed, and very pleased.”

Mr. Hitchcock is pleased not just with the work, but with the contractor’s who performed it. “I have only good things to say about Mike and his guys. They were extremely professional and careful while in the house.” Likewise, Mr. Hitchcock was very pleased with Michigan-based Genisys Credit Union, who financed the project. “It only took one call. It was all very easy. I couldn’t be happier.”

The initial total cost of the project—in the end, so much more than windows—came in at just over $32,000. Thanks to the significant 20% discount offered by the program, as well as a number of additional rebates and credits, the Hitchcocks have managed to save more than $6,500. And of the remaining balance, nearly all of it, $20,000 worth, is subject to ten-year, 0% financing.

As for the payments, “They’re manageable,” said Mr. Hitchcock. “In fact, with the money we’ll save on our utility bills, over time the work should pay for itself.”

BetterBuildings for Michigan is supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and is being administered by the City of Grand Rapids with cooperation from WMEAC. To learn more, please visit www.bbmgr.com or call (616) 451-3051 ext. 40.

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