Stimulus funding provides chance to weatherize home

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By Tom Wilmoth

A program to help area residents weatherize their homes has received a financial boost from the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed earlier this year. Now local officials are trying to let residents know they might be eligible for help.

    Normally classified as a low-income program, the weatherization initiative, with the help of the stimulus funding, is now being made available to more residents.

    In the city of Bedford, the Weatherization Assistance Program is being administered through the Lynchburg Community Action Group, Inc., while the Central Virginia Area Agency for Aging administers the program in Bedford County. City residents have the opportunity to tap into some $600,000 of funds set aside for weatherization projects. It provides labor and materials to reduce heating and cooling costs for individuals and families, seeking to promote health and safety.

    “It’s a great program for people to take advantage of if they’re eligible,” stated Bedford City Manager Charles Kolakowski. “We encourage people to do it.  It’s not only saving the environment, but it’s also saving money for people. We all know how important that is.”

    It can help with:

    • sealing air leaks with insulation, caulking and weather-stripping;

    • repairing leaky heating duct systems;

    • repairing or replacing inefficient or unsafe heating systems; and

    • installing carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

    “It’s really exciting news,” stated Thomas Daniel, vice president and housing director, for the Lynchburg Community Action Group.

    Daniel said the goal of the additional funding from the federal government is to help decrease this nation’s dependence on foreign oil. His organization covers the city of Bedford, city of Lynchburg and Campbell County. He said the hope is to help area families conserve energy and cut down on expenses for fuel and utilities.

    “We’re able to do a lot more under the stimulus,” he said, adding that funding is supposed to be made available through 2012. He said the Weatherization Assistance Program is seeking to help as many families as possible.

    Lynchburg Community Action Group has its own crews and weatherization professionals to work on the projects. He said income is the key factor in eligibility, but those guidelines have been broadened to include more families. Roughly the guidelines would allow those within 75 percent of the Virginia’s median income to qualify. For a single person that would start at a gross income the previous year of $30,581and for a family of four could qualify if their gross income last year was $58,810. That’s up from $15,600 for a single unit and $31,800 for a family of four.

    If someone qualifies financially, then a weatherization assessment would be completed to determine what, if any, work could be done.

    He said all systems are looked at as part of the program.

    “Right now we’re trying to get the word out to as many people as we can,” he said.

    The city is sending out a notice of the program through its utility bill and Daniel said response, up to this point, has been less than they have hoped.

    “It’s a year-round program,” Daniel said, adding that projects are prioritized based on a number of factors, including the elderly, families with children, high energy users and the handicapped. The program works in partnership with the Department of Social Services.

    “All of us now need to be a part of the conservation effort,” he said. ”If we all can become a little more green, it’s good for the country. ...It’s good for our locality, it’s good for the world.”

    He also said it’s good for families’ budgets. Estimated savings through the program for a family is $300. Daniel said the weatherization projects provide long-lasting improvements and ultimately increase the value of the property. “It increases marketability,” he said.

    Daniel said the program can cover homeowners or rental properties. While the budget has been in the $200,000 range traditionally, this year’s budget is $649,136. Bedford County residents have the opportunity to tap into $829,519 that is being made available for home weatherization through the stimulus funding. Those represent half of the stimulus funds that might be made available for the program. Virginia will be evaluated on its use of the initial funding to see if it qualifies for the second half of funds for the program.

    “The Department of Energy wants to see that states meet certain goals,” Daniel said.

    He said  Lynchburg Community Action Group has been hiring additional workers in addition to the long-term employees that have been with the program.

    “We have a really great network of weatherization providers,” he said.

    CVAAA works with Bedford, Amherst and Appomattox counties. Melissa Commins, director of weatherization services for CVAAA said the additional funding for the program is part of a three-year package.

    She said CVAAA has been getting referrals through churches, community groups, mass mailings and social services. She said CVAAA has seen a 10-fold increase in applications. “It hasn’t been difficult for people to get the word out,” she said. “We’re overwhelmed with applications.”

    Commins said, on average, about $6,500 is available to spend per unit. “We have to meet weatherization standards,” she said. “It’s designed to make their home more energy efficient. That would free up disposable income for other essentials.”

    City of Bedford residents should call  434-401-9308 or 434-401-9306 for more information while Bedford County residents should call 540-385-9070.