FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 28, 2004) – Come winter, Bill Hauser and his wife Nellie used to wrap themselves in blankets and run electric space heaters to keep from getting the chills in their Barbourville home.
Bill, 50, is disabled from a work-related back injury, and Nellie, 48, has had recent heart trouble. They became accustomed to the draftiness -- the house has been theirs for 19 years. So when they applied last year for Weatherization Program assistance at the Kentucky Communities Economic Opportunity Council (KCEOC) in their hometown, being placed on a waiting list didn’t bother them much.
Bill Hauser said the wait was worth it.
Thanks to the weatherization program, the home got a new, energy efficient gas furnace, replacing the cracked, old system that was producing carbon monoxide. The home was losing heat because of poor insulation, so a crew added some in the duct work and under the floor.
Bill Hauser said a recent cold spell gave the family the chance to test out the new heater.
"It turned cooler one night last week, so I got out of bed and turned it on," he said. "It already felt a lot better than it used to," he said. "We look forward to staying warmer this winter."
The Hauser family is one of the more than 2,200 households and 5,000 people the state Weatherization Program helps each year by making homes more energy efficient.
Governor Ernie Fletcher has signed a proclamation making Saturday, Oct. 30, Weatherization Day in Kentucky, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) national observance.
"Weatherization makes homes more livable and can cut utility costs by hundreds of dollars each year," Governor Fletcher said. "It’s just one of several state programs that help families stretch their budgets to better take care of other basic needs."
Weatherization helps low-income people save money on utility bills.
"It makes Kentucky homes warmer in winter, cooler in summer and a whole lot safer year-round," said Keith Jackson, a regional coordinator of the program at the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The DOE and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fund the program in Kentucky through the cabinet, which partners with 22 of the state’s 23 Community Action Agencies (CAAs), including the KCEOC, and the Louisville Metro government to administer the work in every county. Many utilities also donate to their local programs, Jackson said.
The number of families helped each year depends on federal funding. This year’s final budget hasn’t been determined yet, but will likely be close to last year’s funding of $7,396,112.
Income is the main client eligibility indicator. Households at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level that have not received weatherization assistance in the last 10 years are eligible. A family of four cannot have more than $23,563 in annual income.
Customers may be placed on a waiting list, but families with children or disabled members and high-energy users would take precedent.
Older Kentuckians also take certain priority, Jackson said. "They get bumped to the top. Senior citizens get colder, so they tend to keep their homes warmer. That’s a big chunk of what may be a fixed income going for a utility bill.
"We don’t want them to have to ask the question, ‘Do I buy my medicine or heat my home?’ "
Clients can be homeowners or renters, who would need their landlord’s approval.
"As long as the place is in good enough condition, we can weatherize it," Jackson said. "We’ve weatherized a school bus that was someone’s home before." But staff can’t work on extremely dilapidated homes with major problems, such as a leaky roof, which the program does not cover.
Once a home is approved for the program, inspectors begin a building audit. They make note of air leaks, assess insulation and infiltration quality, do a heat system check and make recommendations.
Work is done by the local weatherization team, contractors or utility crews, who may caulk, weatherstrip, insulate and repair or replace heating units if needed. Jackson said an average of $3,672 is spent on improvements per house.
Weatherization is an investment that adds value to homes, Jackson said. Upgrading or repairing heating or cooling equipment will provide savings for 10 to 15 years, and insulating walls or a roof will provide savings for the life of a house.
Weatherization coordinators told the Hausers to expect to spend about half as much on their winter gas bills – which were running up to $300.
The program focuses on health even more than energy consumption, Jackson said.
"Safety is our first priority," he said. "We address those deficiencies first."
Jackson said even homes that are determined ineligible get a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector. "We will not leave a house less safe than when we came into it."
Customers will get tips specific to their homes – such as when to use shade to keep the house warmer or cooler. Conservation information is a big part of the process, Jackson said. "Client education doesn’t stop until we finish the work."
Hauser said he’s been around his home with a caulk gun, just making sure everything is tight.
Since the home was weatherized, the Hausers’ daughter, her husband and her 6- and 7-year-old sons have moved in.
For his grandkids, "It sure feels a lot safer now," Hauser said.
Many applicants for weatherization, including the Hausers, also get help from the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps families pay their utility bills.
Apply weather stripping and caulk around doors and windows. Change your furnace filters and check the ductwork for leaks. Turn down your water heater and the thermostat when you leave the house or go to bed.
You’ll save 10-15 percent on your electric bill. CFLs last for 10 years and use a third less energy than incandescent bulbs. They are available at most large grocery and hardware stores.
This ensures that you are getting the most energy-efficient appliances on the market. Kitchen appliances, heating and cooling equipment, home electronics, washers, dryers, lighting and office equipment all come with the "Energy Star" label. These products cost less when you factor in the money you save in your energy bills.