Three years and 1,000 homes later, the Local Energy Alliance Program powered up a celebration last week on the Downtown Mall. Since 2010, LEAP has been facilitating home energy audits and retrofits in Charlottesville-Albemarle, lining up contractors and bankers for energy-saving improvements.

LEAP says it is one of only 15 programs of its type in the country to hit the 1,000-home target for energy upgrades.  

The home of city residents Wendy Roberman and Ted Millich received one of the program’s first energy audits. They learned their 1960s rancher would need a new air conditioning system and furnace.

“They confirmed how inefficient it was,” said Roberman. “The report was wonderful and it told us so much about the house and it confirmed we would save money with the new unit.”

“The bills did go down and the house is much more comfortable,” Roberman added.

The University of Virginia Community Credit Union has been one of LEAP’s key financial partners.  

“We want to help people learn how to save money,” said Rebecca Cardwell, the credit union’s director of community relations. “There are a lot of people overpaying on their energy bills and there are little things they can do to save significantly.”

Cardwell even helps teach a “heat pump class” and educates homeowners about the numerous rebate and financing options.

“We find many homeowners know nothing about the internal systems in their house,” Cardwell said. “Its amazing how many people don’t know how to change their filters, or even where they are, and that’s the No. 1 maintenance item.”

“The big thing is saving money. We want them to take that savings and put it into their retirement,” Cardwell said.

LEAP announced Thursday a new program that will focus on indoor air quality, ensuring homes are not just efficient, but also provide a healthy living environment. LEAP will partner with Dr. Arvind Madaan of Charlottesville Allergy and Respiratory Enterprises.

“I believe LEAP offers an important opportunity for improving indoor air quality, which can have a significant medical impact for people suffering from allergies and asthma,” Madaan said. “Allergies and asthma are emerging epidemics.”

“The connection between the in-home air quality and the energy use of that home is a pretty tight one,” said Cynthia Adams, LEAP’s executive director. “How air and moisture moves through the house has everything to do with how energy-efficient that house is.”

Adams said LEAP has repeatedly seen “very scary situations” in local homes.

“Breathing moldy or mildewed air, carbon monoxide backdrafts and other things can be very negative for the occupants,” Adams said.

LEAP got its start with a three-year, $500,000 Better Buildings grant from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. That grant ends in May and LEAP is identifying future funding sources.

Adams said LEAP is exploring new partnerships with utility companies, local governments and fee-for-service programs. In addition, the group will participate in a voluntary carbon trading market in which carbon credits earned locally through energy efficiency measures can be sold to companies needing emissions permits.

“There is some very important work ahead of us,” Adams said. “The theme is investment in our communities. It’s an investment in the health of our building stock and the health of the occupants in those buildings, an investment in our [property values], an investment in our power supply and, quite frankly, the future of our planet.”