California repayment program would extend lending options to homeowners

As with any long-term investment, home energy improvements can come with a hefty up-front cost that is not justifiable until benefits are achieved or the reforms pay for themselves over an extended period of time. But, what if energy-efficient homes could be created through third-party financing and borrowing?

California lawmakers are currently considering a plan that would allow homeowners to fund home energy improvements by modifying their utility bills to account for any upgrades.

The plan would require homeowners to schedule an energy audit by a home inspector, who would then make recommendations for energy improvements, such as energy-efficient heating and insulation. If homeowners' banks are accepting, they can then repay the loan in installments through their monthly utility bill.

Then, as long as utility companies are also willing to participate, the on-bill repayment program could help consumers make improvements without jeopardizing their wallets in the short-term.

"Everybody in this room can presumably borrow a pot of money for energy efficiency through an unsecured loan – it's called a credit card," Brad Copithorne, the Environmental Defense Fund's Energy and Financial Policy specialist, said at a recent panel discussion, according to Forbes Magazine. "But, the rates for unsecured credit, for good reason, are 18 percent. That's not going to get it done."

If this plan does not get adopted on a widespread scale, homeowners may need to find alternate ways to fund energy enhancements. They could embrace lower-end improvements, such as using CFL or LED bulbs, or they may just take incremental steps when making their homes more green. A qualified Washington, D.C. home inspector can help a homeowner determine which upgrades deliver the most meaningful return-on-investment at reasonable cost.