April 7, 2009 in City

Weatherization gets a federal boost

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

John Custer, an insulation contractor with Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs, helps weatherize a house Tuesday in Hillyard. Washington Senate Democrats have a plan that combines low-tech projects, such as doing more to make homes energy-efficient, to higher-tech ideas.
(Full-size photo)

Federal stimulus money will double the pace of home weatherization in Spokane, creating jobs and reducing dependence on imported oil in the process, officials said Tuesday.

Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs, which administers the federal Weatherization Action Program in the community, will get $1.73 million annually over the next three years, on top of the $465,000 received currently, said Chris Davis, the organization’s director of housing improvement.

Washington will receive a total of $59 million for weatherization assistance, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. The program has improved the energy efficiency of 85,000 homes since it was launched in the mid-1970s, she said, but hundreds of thousands in the state still need work.

She said weatherization saves an average homeowner $358 a year on utility bills. To qualify for the program, a family of four can earn no more than about $44,000, she said.

Cantwell said the new money from the U.S. Department of Energy will boost the number of Spokane homes weatherized each year with federal dollars to more than 900, from about 320 now.

Still more homes are weatherized using funds from other sources, said SNAP Executive Director Larry Stuckart.

Because repairs using federal money are capped at $6,500, non-federal dollars are used to complete work on homes that need more extensive work, he said.

Ron Gaunt, who supervises the seven SNAP weatherization crews, said homes are first audited to determine where a home is wasting energy. Infra-red cameras, for example, reveal where more wall insulation is needed.

Depending on a home’s deficiencies, electricians install energy efficient lighting fixtures, carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, and programmable thermostats. Heating and air-conditioning equipment, as well as water heaters, are replaced. Insulation crews then fill in the walls, seal cracks and replace windows.

Davis said the additional funds will allow him to add 10 workers to the 34 already in the field, and hire private contractors.

“We’re ready to push the money directly to them,” Davis said.

Last year the program provided training to more that 1,000 people in how to better manage energy use.

Daniel Morgan said his home was weatherized in 2007. “I could really feel the difference from one winter to the next,” he said, adding that the work’s social benefits increased his satisfaction with the program.

Morgan’s is one of 5,667 homes SNAP has weatherized since 1993, according to an agency fact sheet.

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