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Make weatherization plans for winter now

Fri, Jun 19th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Planning to make your home more energy efficient for winter is probably not on the top of your agenda for things to do in June. This is a time for leaving windows open over night to let the cool air in, allowing us to wake to a cacophony of birdsongs and cows bawling or dogs barking. However, planning and getting the improvements installed takes time and winter is inevitable and back all too soon.

Low cost energy sources to heat a home are a thing of the past. A leaky home drives up energy bills and wastes fuel. When my husband and I started out many years ago, we lived in a house where we often joked about the inside "wind-chill" (with the windows closed) as the curtains billowed from the wind. This is not a practical option anymore and not a joking matter. We need to think ahead and make those improvements necessary to save on our energy bills. The greatest energy waste in homes, especially older homes, is the lack of insulation and air leakage.

Fixes, including sufficient attic and exterior insulation, weather stripping, energy efficient windows and doors and an efficient heating unit, will pay for themselves over a period of years. If you can't afford the up front cost for a home evaluation for energy efficiency and the cost of improvements, you may qualify for programs through the Department of Energy (DOE) to make the improvements a reality.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funded through DOE was designed to offer monies for energy conservation improvements to households who are at or below 50% of the state medium income. Households with elderly, disabled or the highest heating costs are given priority. To get an application for Energy Assistance through Semcac, the local provider, call 1-800-944-3281. WAP allows low income families to permanently reduce their energy bills with a more energy efficient home. Homeowners and renters eligible for the Energy Assistance Program (EAP), which offers financial assistance to pay heating bills, are income eligible for WAP.

The average investment across the nation with WAP is $6,500 for an energy upgrade. The government estimates that participants could reduce their energy bills by 32%. On March 12, 2009, the federal government announced that $8 billion would be made available for weatherization funding and energy efficiency grants. Three billion of the 8 billion is targeted for the State Energy Program.

Through Semcac the WAP services include participant education, evaluation of home energy usage or an energy audit, exterior wall and attic insulation, air filtration and the testing, repairing or replacing of mechanical systems to improve efficiency and safety.

Eagle Bluff

Eagle Bluff recently requested and received a letter of support from the Fillmore County Board and help from Cris Gastner, Economic Development Authority, in the effort to obtain grant funding up to $500,000 to do, among other improvements, a "Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit" on the director's house. The house is owned by the nonprofit organization. About $100,000 would be used for the retrofit. It is expected that there will be a 70-90% reduction in energy bills with improved comfort and health conditions. The insulation R value would be increased many times over in the basement floor, basement wall, exterior walls, roof and windows. The air tightness is expected to be 90% improved. There will be a mechanical ventilation system that includes heat recovery. The mechanical ventilation system includes an efficient air handler to cut the use of energy and to increase comfort. The heat recovery system collects waste heat from cooking exhaust, humidity, and stale air before finally forcing it out.

Eagle Bluff Director Joe Deden intends to use the house as a demonstration facility, a model as an educational tool for the public and for contractors. The retrofit is a step toward full energy sustainability and the establishment of a carbon neutral facility.

It is estimated that about 60% of existing structures across the nation could benefit from an upgrade with a Deep Energy Reduction Retrofit. Structures would need to be accessed as to their structural worthiness before a retrofit. Eagle Bluff will monitor the performance of the retrofitted home to evaluate the upgrades.

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