NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWVT) is a non-profit organization founded in 1986 to revitalize communities by helping homeowners to make health and safety improvements to their homes.
In the nineties, we added the HomeOwnership Center, offering several educational opportunities for our clients: workshops for first-time homebuyers and to improve financial literacy, as well as counseling services to manage one’s budget and credit, and foreclosure intervention. Our service area grew from four neighborhoods to an entire county.
NeighborWorks America, the larger establishment of which we are a part, is a national network of housing and community revitalization organizations. In 2003, NeighborWorks of Western Vermont became the first chartered member of NeighborWorks located in a rural community. At this watershed moment in our history, we expanded our service territory to all of Rutland, Addison, and Bennington counties. Today, there are five NeighborWorks organizations in Vermont, and, together, the alliance services every county in the state.
How Heat Squad began
In 2007, our home rehab program began incorporating green technologies and products into projects, and started addressing the efficiency of homes as part of our work scope. The very next year, we were awarded a grant from Vermont Community Development Program, which allowed us to create the “V-Saver” project. V-Saver was a spin-off of our rehab program with a specific mission to improve home energy efficiency, in some cases incorporating the use of renewable technologies. In 2009, the program won Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence and Pollution Prevention.
That same year, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the “Better Buildings” grant program. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to extend V-Saver and offer it to all income levels. We sent in our application on December 14, 2009, with fingers crossed and much support from our local partners.
Many months later, on a Friday afternoon in June, our executive director, Ludy Biddle, received a call from Senator Bernie Sanders announcing that NWWVT would receive $4.5 million from The Department of Energy’s Better Buildings program. A big shiny apple for Rutland County!
At NeighborWorks our mantra has always been, “Go-Set-Ready!”. We don’t let planning lead to hesitation and waffling. We launch and plan our projects simultaneously, while continuing to dream bigger and better. With only three years to facilitate 1,000 home energy improvements in Rutland County, we knew we had to get moving– and fast! The previous year, 588 home energy improvement projects had been completed throughout the entire state. In an ambitious push to reach our goal, that fall, the Shrewsbury Conservation Commission held a phone-a-thon in our office, calling everyone in their town to sign them up for an Energy Audit. It was officially our unofficial kickoff! As calls came in, we built our program around the needs of our customers and called it HEAT Squad.
As we developed our program, we reached out to all the major players working to improve efficiency in our state. We nurtured strong partnerships with our utilities, in particular, Green Mountain power, and coordinated efforts with Efficiency Vermont to meet their efficiency goals through their Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. HEAT Squad shares office space with Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont at the educational Energy Innovation Center in downtown Rutland and has been performing energy audits and providing weatherization recommendations, as well as energy loans, for clients in the GMP eHome program since the inception of the eHome initiative in 2012. The eHome program was created to push the boundaries of new efficiency and energy technology by recruiting highly motivated and concerned residents to invest in a comprehensive approach to the reduction of their home energy consumption and the use of renewable energy sources, thus creating sort of model homes, which serve to promote our overall green efforts.
We are well on our way to meeting- and exceeding!- our goals. As of September 2016, HEAT Squad customers have completed 1,325 energy improvement projects and over 3,680 energy audits. We currently serve Addison, Bennington, Rutland, Windsor, and Windham counties, and are rapidly expanding. We hope to be providing our service statewide by 2017! The HEAT Squad is a model that works and is a viable path for assisting the State of Vermont in reaching its mandated goal of improving the efficiency of 80,000 by 2020.
HEAT Squad Goes National!
Our success in Vermont has inspired other NeighborWorks Organizations in other regions to envision similar programs in their neck of the woods. NeighborWorks America has awarded HEAT Squad a grant to help us train fellow NeighborWorks Organizations to implement their own HEAT Squads. We are very excited to report that we have begun working with our friends at Fahe, a non-profit NeighborWorks Organization working to achieve affordable housing, community development, and job creation for communities in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama, and Maryland, to bring a pilot HEAT Squad program to Hazard, Kentucky through the Housing Development Alliance. We hope to be up and running in Hazard by January of 2016. The underserved population of Appalachia offers enormous potential for growth in the program and for educating the public about the value of energy efficiency. There are similar projects on the horizon with the goal of developing ten such satellite programs by 2017!