State offers buyers of energy-efficient homes break on mortgage interest

by: David Ham Updated:

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SEATTLE, Wash. - The Washington State Housing Finance Commission is close to launching its EnergySpark program, offering eligible homeowners .25% off of their mortgage interest rate.

"With EnergySpark, they can either buy a newly built, energy-efficient home, or if it's an older home, make energy improvements up front by financing the work into the cost of the mortgage," says Lisa DeBrock, director of homeownership for the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.  "For example, maybe you can improve energy efficiency by 10 percent by adding insulation to the attic. EnergySpark allows you to get that done before you move in."

EnergySpark is supposed to work with the agency's Home Advantage loan and down payment assistance program.

Those who qualify need to have a household income of under $97,000 and a credit score of at least 620.

However DeBrock says homeowners don't need to be a part of the program to enjoy benefits of savings from living in an energy efficient home.

Sam Lai is a co-founder of Green Canopy Homes, a developer that specializes in building energy efficient homes.

"The reality is the market still doesn't think about it so we're basically giving a gift to the consumer -- they don’t' care about it yet," said Lai.

For example, he's almost finished building six new energy-efficient homes that would be eligible for the EnergySpark loan in West Seattle.

He said homeowners in each of the homes could see potential savings of at least $1,000 a year.

"The first thing about making a home energy efficient is making sure the energy doesn't escape out of a house," Lai added, "The average in Seattle is 28 thousand kilowatts per hour year whereas in this year it is 12 thousand kilowatts per hour per year."

Melinh Jones, bought a home by Green Canopy homes using the Home Advantage program through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

Though the EnergySpark loan is only available for new homebuyers, she said that she definitely would have wanted to take advantage of it if it was available to her.

"It would have been a great program for us to be a part of to utilize," said Jones.

"Energy and utilities are hidden costs of homeownership -- they can really affect the affordability of a home, but homebuyers and lenders usually don't consider them," DeBrock added, "That's why we work with Green Canopy Homes and why we plan to launch the Energy Spark Home Loan: to help homebuyers save money by saving energy."

Lai's company has built about 70 energy-efficient homes in the Seattle area and says about 40 more houses are either in construction or planned.

He believes that the EnergySpark could give some buyers a leg up in a competitive housing market.

"It's very valuable I think with the rising cost, with the fact that housing is so competitive it allows a homebuyer to be more competitive in their price," said Lai.

The Washington State Housing Finance Commission says the EnergySpark loan will be available starting sometime in June.

For more information about the EnergySpark program:  http://www.wshfc.org/EnergySpark/