After 28 years of boarding up my windows when hurricanes approached, I was ready for a change.
From June through November, I watched the next approaching storm with unease, fearful of the potential damage to my home.
As a single parent and public-school teacher living in West Palm Beach, my financial options for storm-protection were limited. With an estimated cost of several thousand dollars, the project seemed continually out of reach and something for next year.
In fact, I had not even been able to afford shutters.
Fortunately, a local referendum passed last fall providing eligible teachers in Palm Beach County a $10,000 bonus for the next four years. This show of support could not have come at a better time.
Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the frequency and intensity of Category 4 and 5 storms have steadily increased in South Florida. I knew instantly that I would use the extra cash to invest in some long-overdue hurricane impact windows.
It may not be the most exciting thing on a wish list, but I was looking for something more valuable: peace of mind.
In March, I began to explore the options available for replacing my decades-old and well- windows, which had somehow survived this long. First, I chose the window company, and then I had to decide on how to pay for them.
I chose a unique financing solution called PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy.
Because my recent pay bonus would cumulatively amount to something more significant over several months, PACE proved to be the perfect fit for me. With no down payment, PACE allows homeowners like me to make payments along with my annual property taxes.
The sign-up process with a local contractor was also straightforward, with no money down. The PACE assessment was simply added to my property tax bill, which gave me the convenience of paying for my new windows over a longer period of time.
Unlike credit cards or some other loan options found online, PACE financing is different because it is based on a property’s equity — not an applicant’s credit score. In my case, PACE offered a more affordable fixed interest rate, with flexible repayment terms and helpful consumer protections.
Once I settled on the necessary window system upgrade for my home, my contractor carefully walked me through the estimated costs and benefits of my project.
An impressive next step was a follow-up call from a representative at Renew Financial, who confirmed that I understood all the key terms of my proposed PACE agreement and offered to answer any remaining questions.
I wanted to know what would happen if my new windows were not installed properly and was assured that payment would only be disbursed to the contractor after receiving written approval from me confirming it was a job well done.
Today, I’m happy to say I feel much more secure in my home.
The impact windows were installed in time for the most recent hurricane season. I was also unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised by the sound of recent storms: silence or something close to it. The original panes used to shake to the beat of an approaching storm, whereas my new reinforced windows are locked firmly in place, protecting my home and family.
These windows literally provide peace.
On top of the clear safety benefits, I have also been surprised to notice significant cost savings on my summer energy bills. Compared to last summer, I have saved roughly 20% per month as a direct result of my new window system’s improved energy efficiency and insulation.
With the demand for near-constant air conditioning throughout the summer in South Florida, it’s a big perk to know I’m no longer needlessly wasting energy and paying a price for it too!
Looking back, I find that my experience with PACE financing was easy and stress-free. I have the peace of mind that comes from a more secure home, together with lower monthly energy bills.
It is important for everyone to explore all their options to figure out the best solution for them. That said, I would definitely recommend PACE if you want to make a critical home improvement without paying a large amount upfront or relying on a credit card with a high-interest rate.
When the next major storm comes, it’s a relief to know I won’t be boarding up my home again.
My plan now is to look out and see what’s coming.
Laura Winston is an established local resident and public-school teacher living and working in Palm Beach County.