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the year should be taken into account, with proper overhangs or awnings placed to help moderate thermal com- fort.” Weiss also likes to take advantage of outside resources like trees and foli- age to create shade and natural over- hangs

Weiss sees a change in her clients’

attitudes about efficiency from a few years ago. “With the recession, people are more budget-conscious, and they are more aware that preventive mainte- nance can save costs in the long run,” she explains. Decker has worked with mosques and other communities of faith to implement energy efficiency changes, as well as commercial and rental prop- erties. “Building owners don’t want to have to charge a lot extra for utilities, so they want to keep their own costs down,” he says. New construction is often under scrutiny because there is a demand to get the work done under a deadline. “There are a lot of houses that are being built quickly, but not cor- rectly,” adds Bonk. Decker points out that because

information about a property’s efficien- cy is now readily available online, it’s fairly simple to do the research ahead of time. He likes the online energy savings calculator to compare energy use to other homes in the area.

Small steps can be taken to de- crease energy use every day, many of which don’t cost a thing. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MWAlliance. org), an outgrowth of another DOE grant, recommends replacing incandes- cent light bulbs with compact fluo- rescent light bulbs wherever possible, which could save hundreds of dollars over three years.

Setting timers or motion detectors on lights and unplugging electronics such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, game consoles and appliances when not in use can make a big difference because these devices consume power even when they’re not being used. When choosing new appliances, look for those that have been certified by Energy Star, a joint program between the DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These appliances are guar- anteed to be at least 15 percent more

EI2 Offers Rebates and Loan Options by Carrie Jackson

The Energy Impact Illinois (EI2) program significantly helps offset energy improvement costs by offering a rebate of up to $1,750 toward insulation installed by an EI2 approved con- tractor that will lower home energy use by 15 percent or more. Costs of the improvements will depend on the scope of the

improvements—for example, insulation will cost more than maintenance on a furnace. GreenChoice Bank, with three locations in the Chicagoland area, has partnered with the EI2 program to provide loans for people that want to un- dertake a home improvement project, but may not have the funding up front. Jon Levey, a co-founder of GreenChoice, is committed to helping people

fund projects to make homes more efficient. “Anybody who owns a home can apply for the loan,” he says. “It’s not merit-based, but rather this program is engineered to assist as many homeowners as possible in making energy ef- ficient retrofits to their properties.” GreenChoice is the only bank that lends specifically for the EI2 program.

Unsecured loans up to $10,000 can be made, and the bank funds the contrac- tors directly so that the homeowner pays only their portion of the improvement cost—typically 10 percent of the total bill. For more information about the loan program, visit The bank is hosting an open house from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., April 6, at

each branch so homeowners can learn about energy rebates for single-family homes and from two to four flats, reduced cost or free home energy assess- ments and how to reduce energy bills ( Architect and designer Lenore Weiss will host a party at 7 p.m., April 3, in Northbrook. Email her at to RSVP. EI2 will waive the $99 assessment fee if the homeowner agrees to host a house party for other prospective participants. These house parties are held throughout the Chicagoland area and allow people to learn about the process together. For more information about attending one of these parties, email Mary Edsey at Mary@EnergyImpactIl- The EI2 rebates expire on May 15, so homeowners would be wise to sign up soon.

energy efficient than other, non-rated versions, and can save a lot of money in the long run.

Most utility companies, such as Nicor and ComEd, have programs to help clients reduce their energy usage. Bonk suggests talking with the provider directly to see if they have recommen- dations. There are also services such as refrigerator and computer recycling days offered by municipalities to the community. Decker recommends doing a little

research before taking on any major changes. “Talk to someone you trust,

natural awakenings April 2013 45

who has experience,” he says. “A con- tractor shouldn’t necessarily be trying to sell you new equipment, but should focus on improving what you currently have.” Weiss advises that it all comes around to the return on investment. “If you can only spend so much right now, try to make the changes that are going to have the biggest impact in the long run.”

Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based freelance writer and blogger. Visit her at

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