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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Washington State’s Energy and Cost Saving Housing Incentives

July 3rd, 2016 · No Comments · Energy

JulianapictureBy Juliana Williams – Washington State Housing Finance Commission

The Washington State Housing Finance Commission aids state residents in achieving energy efficiency as well as housing affordability through programs such as the EnergySpark mortgage program and the Sustainable Energy Trust!

Think about the last time you moved into a new house or apartment. Did you ask how much the utilities cost per month or year? If so, did you include the utility costs in your comparison of long-term costs of different homes? If not, do you wish you had?

For most of us, utility costs are not a major factor in the decision of where to live. Other factors such as location, aesthetics, size and competition for housing often push these long-term costs aside. Sure, most people would prefer to spend less on utility bills, but other factors take priority.

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At the St. Charles Apartments in Seattle, Plymouth Housing Group reduced utility costs by over 25% after making electricity, natural gas and water-efficiency upgrades—financed by a Sustainable Energy Trust loan and repaid through their Seattle City Light bill.

However, utility bills are often a hidden component of the cost of housing—and homes are major users of energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, the residential sector consumes approximately 38% of all of the electricity used in Washington, ahead of the commercial and industrial sectors. As of 2012, there were 2.9 million housing units in Washington, and the average age of those homes was 44 years old. This means that most homes in Washington were built before the first statewide energy code took effect in 1977—and even that was voluntary.

It also means that for most homes, adding insulation, upgrading space heating and water heating systems, and replacing lighting will significantly cut utility bills, increase comfort—and make homes more affordable.

At the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, we believe that energy efficiency and housing affordability go hand in hand, and we are committed to providing a variety of resources to help residents save energy and money.

As average single-family home prices edge above $300,000, and higher in certain parts of the state, it is important for homebuyers to be able to take control of the energy consumption literally built into the home. Last summer, the Commission launched our EnergySpark mortgage program, which offers income-eligible homebuyers a quarter point off their mortgage interest rate if they purchase a new efficient home or make investments in a home that reduce the energy consumption by 10 percent.

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With a Sustainable Energy Trust Loan from the WSHFC, Green Canopy Homes remodeled these 1920s homes in West Seattle to use 50% less energy, while maintaining the original character of the buildings.

EnergySpark makes financial sense for lenders, too: owners of energy efficient homes are 32 percent less likely to default on their mortgages, according to the Institute for Market Transformation.

But what if you live in an apartment? Renters can moderately lower their energy bills through lifestyle changes, but often can’t make major reductions because the building and appliance decisions are made by the landlord. Landlords may not have funds specifically set aside for energy improvements, and they don’t typically pay the utility bills, so energy costs are hidden from the landlord.

To address this issue and others, the Commission established our Sustainable Energy Trust (SET) in 2011. SET is a revolving loan fund that we use to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including energy retrofits for apartment buildings. The Commission offers loans of up to $1 million to multifamily property owners who want to make energy and water investments that reduce consumption by at least 10%.

These SET loans typically have interest rates between 2-4%, depending on the degree of efficiency achieved and the term of the loan. We also lower the project costs by taking advantage of any available local utility rebates, and by offering loan repayment through the local utility bill, where available.

If you are a renter, like me, and want your building to become more energy efficient, encourage your landlord to get in touch with the Commission about a retrofit loan.

Beyond multifamily retrofits, SET loans are also available for:
• Developers of highly efficient single-family housing;
• Retrofits of nonprofit facilities; and
• Clean energy projects.

Although the Commission does not directly loan to individual homeowners for energy investments, banks and local credits unions, such as Craft3 and Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union, are beginning to offer loans specifically for energy upgrades.

By helping residents take control of home energy usage, we can save money, reduce emissions, and improve the quality of the places we live.

More information about the Commission’s energy programs is available at: http://www.wshfc.org/energy/index.htm

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