When Michael and Kelli Scholten began looking for a new home for their young family, they did what so many do in Michigan: bought an older home.

In the Scholtens’ case, it was a 1925 charmer in an established neighborhood in Grand Rapids.

With the charm, though, came challenges.

“(We) bought a very inefficient house,” Michael explains. “Out sons’ rooms were always cold in the winter, and on the coldest nights we would use space heaters to keep them warm.”

In fact, their home’s walls had no insulation at all – no real barrier between them and the harsh Michigan winters.

The Scholtens turned to Michigan Saves to identify a contractor to perform a home assessment.

“As an engineer and a homeowner, I had an idea of what needed to be fixed. … But the assessment taught me what I needed to do first,” Michael says.

“It was nice having data to back up our decisions—to know exactly what we would save if we replaced our boiler or how much air is leaking out of our house. It gave us the information we needed to make intelligent decisions.”

Plenty of the Scholtens’ fellow Michiganians face the same challenges—and have the same opportunities.

Michigan residents, for example, are more likely to own their dwellings (homeownership rate of 72.8 percent) than is the case across the nation (65.5 percent).

But of the state’s 4.5 million housing units, two-thirds (66.4 percent) were built before 1980, a time before much was known about the benefits of insulation and energy-efficient HVAC systems. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan homes, in fact, were built when wall insulation most likely consisted of old newspapers.

And that’s not to mention the thousands of tiny holes in a home where cold air flows in and warm air flows out. Closing these holes – air sealing – can have a noticeable effect on the home’s comfort and efficiency. (For example, the entire volume of air in a house, according to Steve McCarty, director of Customer Energy Management at Pacific Gas and Electric, can escape every half hour through air leaks. That means you need to completely replace all the air you just heated, twice, every hour.)

All that adds up to millions of people in need of exactly the kind of help the Scholtens received via Michigan Saves and lending partner Genisys Credit Union.

The Scholtens purchased insulation for every exterior wall, invested in a new, Energy Star air conditioning unit, and sealed air leaks in their basement.

“The first thing Kelli and I noticed after the work was complete is that the house is much quieter,” Michael says. The shell of their house is insulating them from the outside elements better than ever. “When they took the temperature on (the inside of) my exterior walls before the work, they measured 45 degrees. Now they’re 65 degrees. All that heat is staying in our house, instead of escaping through our walls,” he explains.

“We see this again and again in our work—families making one of the largest investments of their life in a sturdy older house who discover that strength doesn’t ensure efficiency,” says Mary Templeton, executive director of Michigan Saves. “Through our carefully trained network of contractors and our innovative financing programs, we can convert drafty homes to cozy ones, saving families big dollars in the process.”

For the Scholtens, the difference was palpable. “This was the first year we didn’t have to put a space heater in our sons’ rooms, even though we kept the (main) thermostat one degree cooler than we used to,” Michael says. “We moved to this house and intentionally planned on being here for a long time, so we can have a long-term view. It’s nice not to be wasting money in our (older) house.”

Indeed, the Scholtens are saving about 30 percent on their utility costs, or almost $650 per year. They also benefitted from nearly $1,500 in rebates from their local utility to invest in efficient technologies.

“The process (with Michigan Saves) was perfectly seamless,” Michael notes. “It was easy and the payments were set up automatically. The staff responded to my questions really well and in a timely fashion.”