The New Mexican: New Energy Economy Modifies Homes in Hopewell Neighborhood, Providing Comfort and Cost Savings

October 2011

When Raul Perez told his wife their Hopewell Street home in Santa Fe qualified for some free energy-saving work, she scoffed. “I thought it was a lie,” said Elisa Perez, 68, sitting in her small, neat living room.

Now they are excited to see if the new, thick roof insulation, courtesy of the nonprofit organization New Energy Economy, will reduce their heating bills this winter. “It seems like it’s already working,” Perez said. “The house is more comfortable.”

New Energy Economy, known more for promoting a greenhouse-gas cap in the state and suing Gov. Susana Martinez over her bid to nix the rule, has a practical project under way on Hopewell Street, north of St. Michael’s Drive. The group wants to retrofit the old homes in the neighborhood one at a time and help the largely working-class families save money in energy costs.

With some private grant money, the group plans to retrofit at least a half-dozen homes to begin with.

It is bilingual community organizer Lucy Delgado’s job to convince the families the program is for real. She said it isn’t unusual to be met with suspicion when she knocks on a door. “They think we are scoping it out to steal something later,” she said.

The Perez family was the first to say yes. Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, they have worked on renovating their small house over the last 14 years. They rented it at first, then offered to buy it. Elisa Perez said the house was in “really bad” shape.

Her husband replaced flooring, shored up the roof, redid the walls and repaired what he could. On their long list of things that needed to be done was replacing the old insulation in the roof. The house was always hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Then Raul Perez, who cleaned cars at Don Chalmers Capitol Ford, fell ill a couple of years ago with cancer. Their savings went to pay hospital bills. Elisa Perez, who works in housekeeping at the El Rey Inn, had to make sure they saved enough money for the rest of their bills. There wasn’t enough left over to install new insulation.

Then Delgado knocked on the door.

Raul, 69, convinced Elisa they should give the program a try. A crew showed up to audit the house and figure out which retrofit would save the couple the most in energy costs. They settled on insulation and changing out old light bulbs for energy-efficient ones. “I still didn’t believe any of this would happen,” Elisa said.

Then a crew from SouthWest Spray Foam showed up to replace the insulation, at no cost to the couple. Elisa Perez said she remained skeptical right up until the work was under way.

The roof was reinsulated with GreenFibre Insulation, made of 85 percent recycled material. Light bulbs were replaced with new efficient ones. New Energy Economy will track the couple’s monthly heating and electric bills to see whether the insulation makes a difference.

“We will be tracking the energy savings for all the projects we do, based on a year’s worth of data prior to the retrofit and a year after the project is complete,” said Lilia Diaz, the program’s outreach coordinator. “We are using a program an auditor gave us to track the savings.”

The aim is to help low-income families save money on their utility bills while adding value to their homes and helping the environment. These families tend to live in older, less-efficient homes, according to the group.

Low-income families spend an average of 16 percent of their income on home energy, compared to 3.5 percent for other households.

“We had an interest in seeing more investment in energy-efficiency projects focused in the Hopewell area, a lower-income neighborhood,” Diaz said.

“Qualification isn’t dependent on income, like many federal programs, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program. To make this work possible, we got grant money for this project from foundations. We plan on completing five [homes] with this round of funding.”

New Energy Economy is partnering with the nonprofit YouthWorks to help train young people in conducting energy audits and weatherizing the Hopewell homes. A team of three from YouthWorks did the energy audit for the Perez family. On the next house, a YouthWorks crew will work with Sara Stewart, a certified Home Energy Rating System and energy-efficiency auditor.

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