HELP will help Maine homeowners cut energy use, save money

AUGUSTA – HELP may be on the way for many Maine homeowners wondering how they will be able to heat their homes with oil costing $4 or more a gallon.

HELP, MaineHousing’s revised Home Energy Loan Program, provides loans of up to $30,000 at a fixed interest rate of 3.95% (4.194% Annual Percentage Rate) with up to 15 years to repay for a variety of home improvements that reduce energy consumption. The loans are available now from participating lenders.

“We estimate that the typical HELP borrower can cut their household energy costs by 15% to 20%,” said Dale McCormick, Director of MaineHousing. “The program targets middle income working families who need to reduce their energy costs and save money. While income limits apply, more than half of Maine homeowners are income eligible for HELP.”

Households of three or more can earn up to 115% of the area median income and be eligible. Homeowners with one and two person households are income eligible if they earn up to the area median income.

McCormick noted that Maine people have seen the cost of heating their home nearly triple over the past four years. The typical homeowner using 1,000 gallons of heating oil a year who paid about $1,400 annually four years ago will be facing costs of $4,000 or more this coming winter at current prices.

“HELP can assist homeowners with projects large and small, from financing a new energy efficient heating system to adding insulation and weather stripping,” McCormick noted. “Homeowners can use HELP for any energy improvements so long as the energy savings for the projects are more than the cost of the improvements. Eligible improvements include such things as energy efficient wood stoves or wood pellet stoves, solar thermal hot water systems, geothermal systems, adding energy efficient doors and windows, and many others.”

To make the most effective use of the HELP money, borrowers must have an energy auditor evaluate their home and recommend what home improvements will save them the most on energy costs. The HELP loan can pay for the cost of the audit, too.

In addition to requiring an energy audit, other significant changes from the initial HELP program include:

  • Increasing the choice among participating lenders participating to include the lending arms of two Community Action Program agencies;
  • Increasing the eligible improvements to include such things as wood stoves; and
  • Requiring homeowners to add insulation and air sealing, if those improvements are recommended by the energy audit.

McCormick noted that, while the interest rate is higher than in the initial program, it is below the market rate for similar loan products with fixed interest rates.

“The primary benefit of HELP is reducing energy costs for Maine families, but there are important social benefits as well, such as benefitting the environment” McCormick noted. “Reducing heating oil consumption reduces our dependency on foreign oil, and lowers carbon emissions.”

Several Maine lenders are working with MaineHousing to provide HELP loans. People interested in learning more about the program, how to apply, what lenders are participating, and to see whether they qualify, should visit MaineHousing’s website at www.mainehousing.org or call MaineHousing at 1-877-544-3271 (TTY 1-800-452-4603) for a free program brochure.

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