Aug 14, 2023
Whole Home Retrofit Programs from Across the Region
Notoriously a confusing and expensive process, whole home retrofits are beginning to take center stage as states and communities see the benefits they offer.
By: Andrew Winslow
In Philadelphia, over 60,000 homeowners are living in poverty. In New York state, two million homes need to electrify to achieve 2030 climate reduction goals. What do these staggering statistics have in common? Comprehensive whole-home retrofits can be a solution. Notoriously a confusing and expensive process, whole-home retrofits are beginning to take center stage as states and communities see the benefits they offer. Retrofitting existing homes is mutually beneficial for states, contractors, and homeowners. States take advantage of carbon reductions, homeowners enjoy more comfortable homes and possibly reduced energy bills, and contractors book bigger projects.
Developing a whole home retrofit program is not easy. It involves innovative approaches to financing, energy modeling, workforce development, and customer engagement. Across the region, states and communities have developed pilot programs in search of a scalable solution.
Announcing NEEP’s Retrofit Working Groups
To help establish scalable and replicable programs, NEEP is launching two new working groups focused specifically on scalable whole-building retrofit models. The Residential and Commercial Retrofit Working Groups will target state-level stakeholders who want to launch whole-building retrofit programs. The groups will explore the needs and barriers to retrofit programs and learn from early adopters about exemplary programs and pilots that are opening the door for large-scale retrofit programs. The groups will consider methods to streamline retrofit services and funding to reduce confusion, lower barriers to participation, and increase the availability of comprehensive retrofits in place of one-off upgrades.
Conversations will highlight the latest guidance on the use of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). These federal funding opportunities, particularly the HOMES and HEEHRA programs within the IRA, present a significant opportunity for states to develop comprehensive retrofit programs that address health, safety, and decarbonization measures comprehensively.
Retrofits Around the Region
There are several active exemplary programs in the region that may serve as models for learning in the above working groups. Four of these programs are highlighted below.
Zero Energy Now was a pilot program that NEEP helped manage in Vermont. The most recent phase of the project ended in 2023 and resulted in 30 retrofit projects with an estimated average carbon reduction of 94 percent. A study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), found that bundling multiple efficiency and electrification measures under one project, like the ZEN pilot, was the most affordable and carbon-impactful method of performing zero carbon retrofits. Read more about the ZEN pilot in our wrap-up blog.
- Notable qualities: Use of a technical director to coordinate the retrofit; Use of energy modeling software to maximize carbon and financial savings.
Last year Pennsylvania passed a bill to establish a statewide whole home retrofit program called the Whole Homes Repair Program. The bill received bipartisan support indicating that state leaders acknowledge the need to upgrade homes with a focus on comfort, affordability, and efficiency. The program was launched using $125 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). Proponents of this program are hoping the General Assembly will fund it permanently within the state’s annual budget.
The program is officially launching in the summer of 2023. Here is how it works. The state will provide grants for homeowners and loans for landlords of small multifamily units (small landlords) of up to $50,000 per house or rental unit. Funding can be used to address habitability and safety concerns, provide measures to improve energy or water efficiency and make units accessible for individuals with disabilities. The program promotes revitalizing communities and defends against gentrification by offering to forgive loans to small landlords who meet certain provisions. As per the legislation, loans to landlords may be forgiven if: they have owned the property for no less than 15 years, have not been involved in a serious rental violation, annual increases in rent have not exceeded three percent of the base rent, and leases of current tenants are extended by three years upon accepting funding.
ARPA funding will move from the state to designated regional agencies (either nonprofits or counties) who will then work with building owners to guide them through the application process. The full list of regional agencies can be found here. The program is currently accepting applications from homeowners for participation. Building owners should reach out to the agency in their region to learn more and apply.
- Notable qualities: Bipartisan support; Use of federal funds; Focus on health, safety, and reducing energy bills.
There is another exemplary retrofit program in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Built to Last program, a two-phase pilot, was launched in 2021 to “restore the safety, health, affordability, and comfort of existing affordable housing in a way that improves the long-term quality of Philadelphia’s housing.” The program is operated by the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA) with support from the city.
PEA identified that while there were several Philadelphia institutions that provide services to assist low-income households to improve their properties and reduce their cost burdens, the process was disjointed and time intensive. Each service required a new application and only addressed single components of the larger problem. PEA works across city agencies to merge home retrofit services into a single package, taking the burden off of homeowners.
The Built to Last program combines home repair, energy conservation, and healthy homes programs into a coordinated service package to make homes more affordable, healthier, and safer places to live. PEA began its pilot in late 2021 to serve its first 50 homes and its second phase of 50 homes in early 2023.
- Notable qualities: Merging services and funding from multiple city institutions to provide comprehensive home retrofit services; Focus on low-income housing.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center recently launched a pilot program to test a model for scalable decarbonization retrofits. The MassCEC Decarbonization Pathways Pilot launched in the summer of 2022 and is implemented by Abode Energy Management. The pilot takes the approach that each home has different needs, barriers, and solutions to impactfully decarbonize. The pilot uses a new decarbonization energy assessment that results in a personalized decarbonization roadmap. Participants will receive a decarbonization plan, technical assistance, and financial incentives to implement some or all of the recommended measures. According to the website, “The home decarbonization assessment will evaluate several areas — energy efficiency, electrical upgrades, heating and cooling, hot water, cooking & other appliances, and personal transportation — with the goal of eventually eliminating the use of fossil fuels from the home, in addition to promoting efficiency.”
MassCEC plans to test this approach on 75 diverse Massachusetts buildings. The pilot will run in two cohorts. The application period for the second cohort just closed.
- Notable qualities: Focus on education; Long-term planning; Deep engagement with homeowners; Decarbonization.
Whole home retrofit programs create healthier homes that are more environmentally friendly and reduce the energy burden on the residents. Coordinating all the moving parts of a retrofit, such as weatherization and energy efficiency, heating and appliance electrification, renewable energy and battery storage, into one cohesive and affordable package is not easy. However, pilot programs are demonstrating that it is possible for states and communities to make an impact. For these programs to succeed, they must secure reliable funding, develop a knowledgeable and dependable workforce, and convince policymakers that there is value in pursuing these programs.
NEEP plans to continue researching and helping to develop new and promising models in the region that make the case that scalable whole-home retrofit programs are possible. If you are interested in learning more about NEEPs retrofit work, including participation in the Residential and/or Commercial Retrofit Working Groups please reach out to Andy Winslow and John Balfe.