As part of the Oak Park village board’s goal to combat climate change, the village has launched the “Better Homes, Better Planet” campaign to inspire residents to plan for a more sustainable future by linking them to information, resources and even financial support. Renters, landlords and homeowners are all eligible to participate in the program.
“We wanted to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to participate,” said Trustee Susan Buchanan, who is a member of the ad hoc climate change group that recommended much of what is included in the campaign.
The campaign is intended to reduce the village’s carbon footprint as a whole while also saving individual households money with lowered utility bills. Oak Parkers have a range of options to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, whether or not they own it. A full list of the programs and grant opportunities is available on the campaign’s dedicated website: www.sustainoakpark.com.
Residents can sign up for a ComEd energy efficiency audit of their homes through the website as well. While being free of charge, energy efficiency audits are the first step in the process of making homes more sustainable. Due to the advanced age of much of Oak Park’s housing stock, many homes in the village have a tendency to leak energy, said Buchanan.
“It doesn’t make sense to put solar panels on a leaky house and generate energy that’s just going to leak out of your 100-year-old house,” said Buchanan.
The audit determines ways in which residents can prevent further leakage. It also includes the installation of free or discounted energy saving products such as LED lightbulbs, programmable thermostats and hot water pipe insulation, among other upgrades.
With each audit, ComEd consultants give residents personalized reports identifying areas to save energy and money. ComEd can conduct the audits in person or virtually, depending on the wishes of the resident.
“ComEd itself is looking to do more of these,” said Buchanan. “They want to get out in communities and do these audits.”
Once the audit is completed, residents can turn to the village for support in implementing sustainability measures in their homes. Two financial incentives have been created to assist residents who wish to live more sustainably, including the local energy efficiency grant program. The village is putting $420,000 from its sustainability fund toward the grant program.
Those who are approved for the grant are eligible to receive up to $10,000 from the village of Oak Park to cover all or part of the cost of improving the heating, air conditioning and weatherization of their homes. Sealing and repairing windows, walls and doors are among the eligible improvements under the grant, as well as properly insulating attics and pipes.
To encourage residents to tap into solar power, the village will cover 50 percent of the cost to install home solar panels up to $10,000 through its energy efficiency grant. A total of $225,000 from the sustainability fund will go toward the solar rebates program.
Equity, as well as sustainability, was prioritized in the creation of the “Better Homes, Better Planet” campaign. Those who meet a certain income level may also qualify for financial assistance beyond that offered by the village of Oak Park, such as the Illinois Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP.)
The LIHEAP block grant helps low-income renters pay for winter energy bills, ensuring they stay warm throughout the cold months. Undocumented workers are eligible for the LIHEAP as well, providing their income meets the eligibility requirements. Renters can apply for LIHEAP through the “Better Homes, Better Planet” dedicated website as well.
During her time on the board, Buchanan has advocated for the village to take climate change more seriously. With the creation of the “Better Homes, Better Planet” campaign and listening to the recommendations of the ad hoc climate change group, she believes the village of Oak Park is inching closer toward becoming a more sustainable community.
“I’m thrilled,” she said.