Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris

An organization created to encourage residential energy efficiency has launched a contest to get residents retrofitting their homes and installing renewable technologies. Local leaders say the benefits will include reduced energy costs and the creation of new jobs.

“The Home Energy Makeover Contest is an initiative that will help…to educate local homeowners about the importance of energy efficiency,” said Cynthia Adams, executive director of the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP).

“Through energy efficiency, LEAP will stimulate our local economy and generate clean energy jobs which fosters energy independence and makes maintaining our homes more affordable,” said Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris . “We are a lucky community indeed, nowhere else in Virginia does an energy alliance like LEAP exist.”

Over a year ago, the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County jointly won a $500,000 grant from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) to create LEAP. The grant challenges the community to gain 20 to 40 percent in energy efficiency in 30 to 50 percent of area buildings over the next seven years.

Adams announced on Wednesday that the organization will award up to $10,000 in energy efficiency improvements to two residents living in either Charlottesville or Albemarle as part of a Home Energy Makeover Contest.

Eight runners up will receive free professional home performance assessments worth up to $600 conducted by certified local contractors.

Homeowners Wendy Roberman and Ted Millich had their house audited with LEAP and received suggestions to add insulation, switch out appliances, add a new furnace and windows, and some additional ventilation.

“We were able to quickly narrow down who we wanted to do the work, and we were very satisfied with that work,” said Roberman. “I would recommend people get an audit even if you think you know what you need to do.”

Home Performance with Energy Star program benefits

Prices for a home energy audit are running anywhere from $300 to $600 depending on size of home and number of gas fired appliances located in the home according to Adams.

“The end result of this should be a twenty percent or better efficiency gain for your home and …Energy Star certification,” said Adams.

In coming months, LEAP will launch its Home Performance with Energy Star program. Homeowners will get professional guidance on their energy retrofits and certification that the home has implemented energy conservation measures projected to increase its efficiency by 20 percent or more.

“We prequalify contractors to participate…and we also go behind them on a percentage of their jobs [to] test out [and] check the work [to] make sure that it was done correctly and that all of the diagnostic readings are being reported as they should be,” said Adams.

“By going through a prescribed process to identify energy efficiency issues and remedy them using a whole house a approach, owners of existing homes can benefit from the latest in building science too,” said Laura Fiori, president of Key Green Energy Solutions, a LEAP partner.

“Our primary hope in participating in a LEAP program is to create job growth,” said James Sullenberger of Weather Seal Insulation. “Like many local companies, we have been forced to make major changes in an effort to survive and remain competitive in this ever changing market.”

The University of Virginia Community Credit Union is also partnering with LEAP to provide low-interest financing for energy efficiency improvements.

“They put together an energy sense lending program [called Green $ense Lending] that is available exclusively through LEAP that has better rates and longer terms than one can get on a personal loan,” said Adams.

Green $ense Lending products can be paired with LEAP cash incentives, federal energy tax credits and the Commonwealth of Virginia energy rebates to make home energy improvements more economical for area residents.

Winners of the contest are selected through an application review process based on homes that use the most electricity and natural gas, which translates to homes that have the potential to save the most energy.

The contest will be open from July 1 to August 20, and the winners will be announced by September 12.  Applications can be found at the website .