A 1,200-square-foot Montgomery Village bungalow is supposed to be cozy, but Greg and Kambria Holder's version was anything but.
The house was so drafty during winter cold snaps that they had taken to wearing hats inside, keeping a stack of blankets beside the couch, and getting dressed in front of the furnace.
Running both the gas insert stove and wall-mounted furnace made the place reasonably comfortable, but it never lasted.
"Between the two, the home would warm up, but it just doesn't hold its heat," said Greg Holder. "If you hung out by a wall you could just feel (the cold) coming through."
And that's after spending thousands of dollars on new double-pane windows after purchasing the 1950s era home in 2006.
Then the county made them an offer they couldn't refuse. Instead of draining their savings to pay for better insulation, the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program allowed the Holders to borrow the $3,900 they needed for the project.
The innovative program is being credited with stimulating the sluggish construction industry, creating new jobs, and making the county a nationwide leader in the fight against global warming.
"This program is a game changer," said John Sutter, general manager of Applied Building Science of Santa Rosa, which recently insulated the Holders' home. "It's good for the county and good for the consumer."
Since its inception earlier this year, the energy loan program has blown past its goals. Instead of the $7.5 million in energy saving projects the county expected to fund in 2009, the program has received more than $40 million worth of applications, according to Rod Dole, Sonoma County's Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector.
"This project is growing literally $1 million per week," Dole said. "We're just working as hard as we can to keep up with it."
Of that $40.5 million in applications, $23.9 million was approved by mid-December and $16 million had already been paid out on projects ranging from insulation to energy efficient furnaces to solar panels.
The infusion of cash has sparked a moribund construction industry battered by the housing downturn, creating jobs and even catching the eye of federal officials hoping to copy the program's unexpected success.
"We know that Sonoma County is leading the nation," Dole said. "We've had calls from the White House, we've had calls from the Department of Energy. They want to know how Sonoma County pulled it off. They want to use Sonoma County as a standard nationwide for other programs."
Sonoma County didn't invent the idea of government loaning money to people for energy efficiency projects. The City of Palm Desert pushed for the state law allowing such programs that passed in 2008. But Sonoma County, with its 180,000 eligible parcels, was able to take to program to another level.
The county treasurer's office helps cities, schools and special districts invest their cash in safe investments like U.S. treasuries, Dole explained. At the moment, that figure stands at $1.9 billion. County leaders opted to take 2 percent of those funds — $45 million — and invest them closer to home.
The program allows people to borrow money from the county for energy-efficiency improvements and pay it back in installments on their tax bills. The county places a lien on the property to ensure payment.
Currently, the program charges 7 percent interest, with 3 percent going to earn a return and the remaining 4 percent offsetting program expenses.