County’s HERO Program offers financing for conservation upgrades

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Canyon Lake homeowners have the opportunity to save water and energy and reduce utility bills with help from Riverside County’s HERO Program; HERO stands for “Home Energy Renovation Opportunity.”

Governor Brown recently asked Californians to reduce their water usage by 25 percent, which means everyone needs to get creative about targeting excess water use in their homes. Changing daily habits is important; but, according to HERO representatives, the long-term solution is to make water efficiency upgrades.

As part of Canyon Lake’s effort to reach the 25 percent water use reduction goal, the City has a program that enables homeowners to make efficiency upgrades at or close to zero net cost. Based on the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) model, the HERO Program enables homeowners to finance energy- and water-efficiency improvements through one’s property tax bill.

A number of Canyon Lake homeowners have taken advantage of the program. Among them are Lee and Marti Norris who are looking forward to their first big savings this month after going solar for their energy needs. Last year, says Lee, the couple averaged $500 per month on their electricity bill over the months of June, July, August and September.

Lee says that, not only will they be saving money on their electric bills, the costs for the solar upgrades will appear on their property tax bill, providing a much needed tax deduction. “HERO was great to work with,” says Lee. “We were happy with all the contractors.”

Through the HERO Program, rather than footing the bill for upgrades up front, the homeowner can repay the assessment over anywhere from 5 to 20 years. Interest is tax deductible, and one sees immediate savings on water and electric utility bills.

Canyon Lake homeowners have been taking advantage of this simple, affordable opportunity, accessing more than $5.4 million in financing to complete 262 projects since the program was brought into the city in December 2011. Riverside County as a whole has benefitted to the tune of $269 million in financing for 14,500 renovation projects, including more than $4.6 million specifically for water-efficiency projects.

As California’s drought drags on, water-efficiency retrofits give homeowners a fast, affordable way to lower their water bill and conserve a desperately-needed resource. Retrofits can cut a home’s water use by one-third to one-half. Upgrades range from water-saving landscaping (like turf lawns) and drip irrigation systems, to high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, hot water delivery systems and water capture systems.

In addition to water-saving upgrades, a wide variety of energy-saving upgrades are available through HERO. These include solar panel installations, whole-home heating and cooling (HVAC) systems, energy-saving windows and doors, roofing and insulation.

More and more homeowners want to install water- and energy-efficient features to their homes, and using the city’s HERO Program is an option for financing those upgrades. Eligibility is based on home equity, not credit, and most homeowners qualify. Unlike a home-equity line of credit (HELOC) or a second mortgage (or a credit card balance), a loan through HERO is often transferable to a new owner. Also, borrowing through the HERO Program doesn’t tap out a homeowner’s other lines of credit.

In addition, HERO provides extensive customer protections that are not available through other forms of financing. Contractors that are eligible to offer HERO financing for their projects must complete extensive training on ethics and on providing appropriate disclosures to homeowners. HERO-certified contractors must be licensed by the State of California and be fully bonded and insured. HERO also staffs a hotline to respond to homeowner queries that is available for 15 hours a day.

To learn more about the HERO Financing Program, and to apply, property owners can visit www.HEROProgram.com or call 855-HERO-411 (855-437-6411).

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Sharon Rice