Doug Selby, CEO of Meadowlark Builders, is more than a tad disillusioned that Home Star is not an option. “It’s a little disappointing that the federal government would rather give out huge oil subsidies that make companies like Exxon pay zero in taxes but they won’t throw the home performance industry a bone,” he says. “We could make a ton of new jobs and the taxpayers would get a huge return on their investment over time. It’s incredibly short-sighted and stupid.”
No doubt Selby is not alone in this sentiment. However, Meadowlark Builders has flourished despite Home Star’s demise. Selby says his company has seen its business double due to incentives offered by the state and federal governments working in concert with local utilities and area banks. He especially credits the Michigan Saves home energy loan program with keeping Meadowlark Builders afloat. “I don’t think we’d be in business without them,” he says. Meadowlark is deemed a Michigan Saves “authorized contractor,” the only type allowed to do the work. Aside from meeting a litany of requirements and certifications, these contractors can also initiate the loan application process.
Partially funded by a three-year grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) along with Better Buildings for Michigan (then called Michigan Retrofit Ramp-up), along with various state, regional, and municipal entities, Michigan Saves began with about $12 million in a loss reserve fund. This helped to persuade area banks to make $90 million worth of credit available to homeowners who could apply for unsecured personal loans to make energy-efficient home improvements in the range of $1,000 to $12,500. The loans have a fixed APR below 7%.
“They had to do some wrangling with banks to get them to finance it, but once that happened the program started working pretty quickly,” Selby says, adding that Michigan Saves is “a real shining example of private and government concerns working together to create something that works. Without that, there would not be much activity going on at all.”
Another incentive option for Great Lake state remodelers is profitable but proves that patience is indeed a virtue. Michigan utility Consumers Energy participates in the DOE’s Home Performance with Energy Star program, Splash which offers rebates up to $3,500 to homeowners for approved energy-efficient upgrades. “The problem with utility-based programs is that the amount of paperwork they require is onerous,” Selby says. The auditing program is equally burdensome, taking up to nine hours to complete, but, Selby adds, the data is extremely useful.
These incentives have been doubly vital to remodelers in Michigan, where homeowners have seen their disposable income evaporate. “You give us a normal economy where the energy prices are rising and I think this industry will stand on its own two legs just fine,” Selby says. “The depth and severity of the housing recession and how upside down everything is makes a lot of people who would normally go down this avenue unable to do so without these programs.”