Energy Efficiency Goes Hand in Hand with Affordable Housing: Innovative Guaranteed Home Programs

SystemVision, Advanced Energy’s affordable housing program and the only guaranteed energy and comfort program for affordable housing in the nation, took a big step last year: For the first time in 15 years, it will scale to existing homes. The program is expanding its mission to give low-income families, such as those receiving less than 80% of an area’s median income, a chance to have a better home that is safe, healthy and affordable.

Since 2001, SystemVision’s New Homes program has completed, certified and guaranteed over 4,500 homes in North Carolina. The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) is a major partner, providing the program with access to more than one-third of the affordable units built in the state. More importantly, NCHFA committed to providing the financial incentive needed by builders and developers to participate.

Statewide, more than 60 affordable housing developers in North Carolina participate in SystemVision, including Habitat for Humanity affiliates, local governments, community development corporations and nonprofit organizations. An analysis of energy billing data in 2008 showed that the average savings per home was approximately 15% of the total bill or 30% of heating and cooling. “We want the home to be affordable not only to buy but also to live in for the long term,” says Maria Mauceri, SystemVision’s program director.

Low-income homeowners are not the only ones benefiting from the program’s expansion. The new initiative lets nonprofit builders take advantage of funds from the NCHFA to retrofit older homes. Advanced Energy works with eligible builders to conduct an assessment and determine what retrofitting measures will be installed in the home. After the work is completed, all homes are visually inspected, and they receive specific performance tests to verify compliance with the standards.

maria mauceriMauceri says, “Our experience so far has been great. Builders are eager to learn the standards and process, resulting in completed homes that meet high standards for energy efficiency, comfort, durability, health and safety.”

Innovation also involves collaborating to improve the work both organizations are doing. The NCHFA works intimately with affordable housing developers across the state, providing financing and support that makes it possible to increase the number and quality of affordable homes. The key to implementing this success fully is making cost-effectiveness the priority.

“SystemVision for Existing Homes is a model that recognizes the nuances of an existing home structure while putting energy efficiency measures in place with the highest return on investment,” explains Gene Brown, President and Executive Director at Community Housing Solutions. “The result…providing beautifully renovated homes for first-time homebuyers with low energy costs and preserving the life of the home for many years to come.”

Even though SystemVision depends on volunteer labor, novice contractors and limited budgets, its homes continue to outperform code-built homes while using readily available construction products and technologies.

Advanced Energy has expertise in building science, training and program management. The tools and techniques needed to implement high-quality energy efficiency measures in existing homes are built into SystemVision’s training and inspection process. A whole-house standard resonates with the program partners. Together, we can reach a large community of homeowners.

Looking ahead, SystemVision hopes to translate an energy efficiency philosophy to multifamily, commercial and supportive housing. “What you need [to encourage awareness of energy efficiency in the community] are market drivers in affordable housing and the NCHFA, or other organizations, providing funding. In the open market, homeowners may pay more upfront, but they receive ongoing benefits for the life of the home, such as increased property values, lower energy bills, and more comfort and durability,” says Mauceri.