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Program offers loans for energy upgrades

By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
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With cooler weather around the corner, some local homeowners say they are glad to have made their homes more energy efficient over the summer. But what they are really happy about, they say, is the fact that they didn’t spend any of their own money doing it. Granite Bay resident Larry Lumsargis said he spent about $39,000 replacing his heating and cooling system, getting new windows and installing solar power for his house. None of the money for the improvements came out of his pocket. That is to say, not yet. Lumsargis took advantage of a program called Cash for Comfort, which makes federal stimulus money available to homeowners to fund improvements that will lessen energy usage. Through the program, homeowners are granted a low-interest loan that is repayable over a fixed period of time, and almost any homeowner is eligible. “It is a moderate-income program,” said John Ralston, vice president of sales and marketing for Advanced Comfort and Energy Systems in Sacramento. “It works well for people who have lost value in their house and they don’t have any equity left, but they really need improvements.” Ralston said any homeowner whose combined household income is less than $116,000 annually is eligible for the program, and there is no credit check or home appraisal needed. Funding for the program comes mostly from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as federal stimulus funds) and is made possible through a grant award from the California Energy Commission. Advanced Comfort & Energy Systems is a participating contractor with the CRHMFA Homebuyers Fund (CHF), the government agency that runs the program and distributes the funds. . Granite Bay residents Don and Claire Sharp said they began looking into the program in June. By September, they had completed all the energy upgrades in their home, which included installing a cool roof and new insulation and duct work in the attic. “The funds were pretty accessible,” Claire Sharp said. “It was very easy.” Ralston said homeowners who have taken advantage of the program are typically seeing an average of about 28 percent in savings on energy bills. Lumsargis said since making the upgrades four months ago, his Pacific Gas & Electric bill has consistently been around $10 or less. “We’re pretty conservative on the usage, but nevertheless, the house is always very comfortable,” Lumsargis said. “To me, that is well worth the investment.” Don Sharp said with the cost of heating and cooling his home continually escalating, he wanted to find ways to make his house as energy efficient as possible. “As an architect, I try to do as much green energy design as I can,” he said. “We are using our own house as a test case.” Since writing the grant proposal and partnering with CHF in the program, Ralston said Advanced Comfort and Energy Systems has added three crews and put more than 30 people to work. He said more than 200 people have taken advantage of the program so far this year. Ralston said homeowners have to be current on their mortgage with no outstanding tax liens or judgments, and they have to be able to prove their income. The amount of the loan is dependant on the cost of specific projects for which is will be used, he said. The program is available through March 31, 2012, he said. Toby Lewis can be reached at tobyl@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT. ---------- To apply for the Cash for Comfort program, visit www.cashforcomfort.org.