Frequently asked questions
1. Who is behind the Better Homes, Better Planet Sustainability Campaign?
The Better Homes, Better Planet Campaign is developed and led by the Village of Oak Park. We are partnering with local community groups and utility companies to:
• Increase understanding about climate change and how it is affecting Oak Park;
• Introduce rooftop and community solar, free energy assessments, and weatherization/heating & cooling programs that create clean energy or increase energy efficiency;
• Encourage people like you to participate in these programs to help fight climate change, improve your homes, and save money on utilities.
We are partnering with these utilities:
• ComEd: Oak Park’s electricity producer, supplier, and administrator of free energy assessments and weatherization programs.
• Nicor: Oak Park’s gas supplier and co-administrator in ComEd’s energy assessment and weatherization programs.
• MC Squared Energy Services, LLC (mc2): Oak Park’s contracted alternative electric retail supplier of the Community Choice Electricity Aggregation Program. Participants with mc2 never pay more than customers whose electricity is supplied by ComEd, while also helping support a local renewable energy fund and community solar services. mc2 also serves as the service liaison for Oak Park’s community solar subscription program.
Contact Sustainability Coordinator Mindy Agnew at email@example.com with any questions or comments about this campaign.
2. Who is eligible to participate in the community solar, energy assessment, and weatherization programs?
All residents of Oak Park can participate to help fight climate change and reduce their utility bills. Whether you are a homeowner, renter, or landlord, there are energy saving and solar programs for you. There are also programs for low-to-moderate (LMI) income homeowners and renters as well as landlords who rent to LMI families. Oak Park’s Sustainability Coordinators are available to walk you through the application process and find the programs that are just right for you.
3. What is considered very-low and low-income households?
The Village of Oak Park follows the Area Median Income (AMI) for the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area including Cook County, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine whether a household is very-low or low-income.
It is important to determine if your household qualifies as low- or very-low income because additional programs will be available to you and your family.
Very-low income households are those with incomes below 80% of the AMI; low-income households are those with incomes below 60% of the AMI. For a family of four, 2021’s 80% level is $74,550; for 60% it is $55,920. An extended chart can be found here.
4. What is the Oak Park Sustainability Campaign?
In response to residents’ concerns about the climate crisis, the Village of Oak Park created the Oak Park Sustainability Campaign, a marketing and public relations campaign that seeks to raise awareness, education, and participation among our residents about how the climate crisis has affected Oak Park and ways people can help fight against climate change and reduce their utility bills right now through existing energy efficiency and solar programs.
The ultimate goal of this campaign is to reduce Oak Park’s overall building energy usage, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), due to the demographics of Oak Park, including our village’s overwhelmingly older housing stock. Reducing building GHG emissions will go a long way with helping Oak Park do its part to fight climate change, guarantee utility savings to its residents, and help ensure a more equitable, resilient future for all.
5. What is rooftop and community solar?
Rooftop solar refers to solar panels installed on homeowners’ or businesses’ rooftops for their own personal solar electricity generation. Owners are responsible for working with contractors to install solar panels and maintaining them over the next 20-30 years. Over time, the cost of solar panel installation pays for itself through lower electricity bills. Rooftop solar is a long-term investment for homeowners and businesses that lowers electricity bills, adds property value, and helps create local, carbon-free electricity.
Each subscriber receives credits for their share of the electricity produced by the community solar project. These credits are applied to subscriber’s electricity bills, and because the credits are always greater than the cost of the subscription, electricity savings are guaranteed.
Community solar is an easy way to support clean energy generation in Illinois. A community solar subscription helps you:
• Save money on your monthly electricity bills
• Avoid installing or maintaining equipment on your property
• Participate in solar power generation even if you are a renter or your house is not suitable for solar panels
• Reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels
• Reduce air and water pollution
6. Where can I find information on rooftop solar for Oak Park homeowners?
You can visit the Village of Oak Park solar page and click on Solar Resources to see initial information on the solar potential for your home and federal incentives.
7. What is weatherization and Heating & Cooling?
Weatherization and upgrading to energy efficient Heating & Cooling helps save energy in homes by improving the structure and increases energy efficiency, safety, and comfort. This is done through:
•Eliminating drafts to prevent loss of heated or cooled air
• Insulating attics, walls, and floors
• Insulating furnace ducts or water heater pipes
• Installation or upgrade of heating, venting and air conditioning
By ensuring homes are well sealed and air-tight, heating and cooling will be more efficient and cost less money overall. According to the Weatherization Assistance Program's Technical Assistance Center, "Combined savings for energy and non-energy benefits in 2008 show Weatherization returns at $2.72 for every $1 invested."
8. What are energy assessments?
The home energy assessment is a free visual inspection of your home. An energy advisor will collect information about your home's energy users by taking a look at your heating system (e.g. furnace or boiler), cooling system (air conditioner), water heater and appliances. The energy advisor will then provide you with personalized recommendations identifying additional ways to save energy and money. During the assessment, the energy advisor may install the following energy-saving products:
ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs
WaterSense® certified showerheads
WaterSense certified faucet aerators for bathrooms and kitchens
Hot water pipe insulation
9. What is climate change?
Climate change refers to how human activities powered by fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) such as driving and flying, have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The artificially increased amount of CO2 is causing the overall climate to be increasingly hotter. Climate change will cause the Earth to be a more difficult place to live, causing food, water, and habitat shortages for people, plants, and animals. Some regions will be dangerously hot while other areas will no longer be habitable due to rising sea levels. Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding, wildfires, and tornadoes will become both more frequent and intense, threatening the places where people live, work, and play. Many plant and animal species will go extinct, due to the rapid changes their environments are undergoing that normally take thousands of years rather than decades. Without extreme, global action to both stop and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, many scientists estimate that significant changes to the viability of human life will occur by the end of the century.
10. How is climate change affecting Oak Park today?
Climate change is already affecting Oak Park. In the last few years, businesses, homes and yards have been damaged by extreme weather, incurring unexpected costs, and affecting people’s daily lives. Examples include more frequent and intense rainstorms that are flooding basements, deadly polar vortexes that stress heating budgets, and long summer droughts that strain AC systems and kill local plants, flowers, and trees.
A warmer climate also means worsening local public health. Long, hot summers increase the risk of local air pollution due to the smog-trapping effects of urban heat islands and extended pollen seasons, stressing people with respiratory issues such as asthma. Hotter and longer summers also mean people with limited access to air conditioning are more likely to suffer and or die from heat exposure, especially at night.
The increasing severity and unpredictability of weather patterns also means that local farms are suffering from damaged and/or reduced crops, reducing access to food and raising prices.
11. What is Oak Park doing about climate change?
Oak Park recognizes that no area on the planet will be shielded from the devastating effects of climate change. To help reduce climate change now and in the future, the Village of Oak Park is drawing awareness, education, and engagement around climate change and the various programs residents can take advantage of to reduce their building’s GHG emissions, Oak Park’s largest source of CO2. Oak Park is also dedicating additional resources in the form of grants and reimbursements to help incentivize people to participate and ensure that LMI residents are also able to participate.
12. When are these programs available?
All programs listed on this website are currently available. New programs are also being developed by the Village of Oak Park and will update here once they are ready.
13. How do I apply for the energy efficiency grant programs?
For Non-Income based Energy Efficiency Grants
You can visit the website for the grant program guidelines. The basic steps to participate in the program:
Homeowners will need to present an energy assessment as part of the application process. Free assessments are available through ComEd or Nicor. Contractors that do professional energy audits are another option at the owner’s expense.
Proof of energy upgrades must be available along with certification that the work was performed, and final inspections were completed to confirm work was done within all applicable Village codes.
An application can be filled out and submitted to the Development Customer Service department.
Final payments will be made to the Homeowner
You can view the program guidelines on the website and contact the Development Customer Service department to begin the application process.
14. When is the best time of year to participate?
Any time of year is the best time of year to help fight climate change, reduce pollution, and guarantee lower costs on your utility bill. Call or email today to find out what free programs your household qualifies for and help the Village of Oak Park fight climate change!
15. Why is Oak Park fighting climate change?
Climate change is arguably one of the greatest threats mankind faces. The longer we delay acting, the more irreversible and catastrophic the threats to water, food, and safe homes will be to generations now and in the very immediate future. Without significant action, extreme changes to people’s way of life will occur within the next 50 to 75 years, with threats to food, water, and shelter growing increasingly worse each year. In addition, the Village of Oak Park prides itself on being a forward-thinking, visionary city that champions justice, community, and integrity. It is simply the right thing to do our part to help safeguard the plants, animals, and earth that we all call home.
16. Why is ComEd/Nicor offering these free programs, offerings, and incentives?
Illinois legislators, in the interest of reducing pollution and helping consumers save money, required major utilities such as ComEd, Ameren, and Nicor, to expand their energy efficiency programs and reduce energy waste and pollution while lowering consumer’s power bills. More recent legislation also specifically directed utilities to expand the definition of “low income” and design and deliver new programs for customers who may have a hard time paying bills.
17. Why should I participate?
Signing up for community solar, an energy assessment, weatherization, or all three programs is a guaranteed way to lower your utility bills, invest in your home, live more comfortably, reduce pollution, and fight climate change. There are literally no downsides to participating in these free programs that were specially designed to help homeowners, renters, and landlords reduce their utility bills and support more sustainable ways of living.
18. How much money can I save through community solar or energy efficiency programs?
The average customer saves over $170 a year on utility bills as the result of the energy-saving products installed during or after the assessment. You’ll also learn about other ways to save and other rebates offered by ComEd and your local natural gas utility. Individual cost savings are not guaranteed and may vary based on weather, usage habits and energy and utility charges. But the older your home is and/or the worse and more extreme the weather gets, the greater the potential for savings. (ComEd)
High-efficiency energy-saving products, including furnaces and boilers, can help you save energy and money. On average, nearly half of a home’s energy bills go to heating and cooling your home. By installing high-efficiency products, you can reduce the amount of energy you use to heat your home for years to come. With rebates from the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program, improving your home's efficiency is more affordable. (Nicor)
19. What if I live in a Historic District or my house is an Oak Park Landmark?
The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission supports sustainable “green” building including the use of alternative energy sources. In fact, the preservation and reuse of historic buildings is inherently sustainable.
All projects requiring building permits in a Historic District or for an Oak Park Landmark go through the Historic Review process. However, a majority of permits are approved administratively, as long as they are done appropriately and do not necessitate the demolition of historic materials. For more information, see the Architectural Review Guidelines and reach out to historic preservation staff at firstname.lastname@example.org .
20. Are solar panels permitted in the Historic Districts?
Yes! Solar panels are permitted in Oak Park’s historic districts, but they should be installed in a sensitive way that is minimally visible from the street. For example, appropriate installation locations may include on the roofs of garages hidden from view by the main house or on rear roof slopes. If solar panels must be installed on side-facing roof slopes, they should be placed as far back from the street as possible. Additional review may be required to ensure appropriateness. For more information, reach out to historic preservation staff at email@example.com.