Key goal: More energy efficiency for homeowners
Will other cities turn green with envy? Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter pledged in 2008 to remake Philadelphia as a leading “green” city, and now, with the Energy Works Now initiative, the city is closer to realizing Nutter’s goal.
“The program we’ve established — Energy Works Now — has expanded to five counties. We wanted to create a model that would work well beyond investment,” said Sustainability Office Director Katherine Gajewski, who also serves as Energy Works director. “A model that isn’t superficial, but one that really helps us put the pieces together for a workable and scalable energy efficiency program.
“For a lot of contractors, their trucks don’t stop at the city line; they want to work as much as they can.”
Contractors like Melissa Mason and Verna Miller, co-owners of the Lehigh Valley-based Energy Savings Plus outfit, and widely accepted as the only female minority contractors taking part in the program.
“We wanted to create a program that gave work to energy auditors in the region … and thought it would be a great thing to diversify,” Gajewski said, noting that the energy contracting industry is usually dominated by white males. “One of those companies is Energy Savings Plus — the fact that they are entering the space shows the great opportunity for diversity.”
Mason has a master’s degree in business, while Miller has more than ten years’ experience as a contractor. They met a little less than two years ago through a non-profit function.
“The biggest thing is educating our customers, because it’s important for people to know what they can do with their homes,” said Mason, who also serves as operations manager for the year-old outfit. “We start out by finding out what the homeowner wants to do with their home, and what their goals are. We then take what they want and put our science behind it.”
Mason said there are myriad options for the homeowner, including various weatherization tactics they can employ, that will save even them even more green.
“Some people want to insulate their homes, but don’t know about air flow,” Mason said, in giving just one example of what Energy Savings Plus can do, besides also offering home energy audits. “They may also have it installed wrong or backwards, and we can educate them on that.
“Our customers are happy with that. The economy is tough, and a lot of people want to do the work for themselves,” but need proper know-how.
Gajewski’s office has established a website — www.energyworksnow.com — for both commercial property managers and homeowners alike. There, consumers can research information on everything from reducing operational costs for businesses to tips on how residents can save more than 20 percent on their utility bills.
“It’s really customer-driven. We’re learning that folks are interested in energy efficiency, but finding information can be difficult,” Gajewski said. “There was no one-stop shop, or a place you could go to get hooked up with an energy auditor, get debt financing assistance or for quality checks on the work completed on the back end.
“As a result of that, people weren’t doing anything for the people interested in energy efficiency and [the homeowner] then sits on his hands.”
Mason said her outfit provides all of those services, including certification — a crucial element when it comes to either selling or refinancing a home.
“We will do the work, and also help and educate them on any other work they may want,” Mason said. “Verna can certify a home for Energy Star compliance, which is important, especially if you’re doing an addition to the home.
“So if that home goes to market, that certification goes with it.”
The benefits of this program extend all the way to City Hall.
“We’re able to come out and make presentations to community groups and employers, so if someone has a lot of interest, we’d be happy to come out, make a presentation to know what the program is about,” Gajewski said. “As a city, we want to reduce energy use and increase the air quality and help people make their homes more comfortable and reduce their energy bills.”