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Arapahoe County weatherization program might see more demand

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weatherization efforts in Arapahoe County might be more important this year as low-income families see cutbacks to a heating assistance program.

Reductions in the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and stricter income guidelines mean many families will be ineligible this year.

Partnering with the Governor’s Energy Office, the Weatherization Assistance program can perform a free energy audit and provide a variety of energy conservation services in Arapahoe and Adams counties all year, not just during the hearing season.

Weatherization manager Steve Elliott said the program has evolved from the 1970s, when energy improvements were pretty basic. Today it’s a comprehensive whole-house approach, from appliances to the entire building envelope.

After an energy audit, an inspection checks that all combustion appliances are operating safety, looking for carbon monoxide and gas leaks, followed by air leakage and insulation checks.

About 75 percent of homes get additional insulation in attic and walls, he said. Insulation also can be added to subspaces.

“It all depends on what is most cost-effective for that particular application.”

Work usually begins within two weeks of an energy audit, either with county employees or contractors vetted by the county.

The weatherization program currently is budgeted at $5.6 million, compared with around $3 million before the current American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.

About 600 to 700 clients were served before new funding; now 1,100 to 1,200 residences get served.

Prior year’s improvements have resulted in energy savings for homeowners of about 20 percent in heating costs and 10 percent in electric costs, but more extensive improvements done now probably means increase savings.

Haley McKean, communication services specialist, said the weatherization program can help fill some of the LEAP gap, and is a more permanent solution in some cases.

On average, nationwide savings with weatherinzation programs are around $435 annually — definitely significant for low-income households, Elliott said.

Studies show low-income households spend on average more than 14 percent of annual income on energy, compared with about 3.5 percent for higher income households.

Crews sometimes find furnaces producing carbon monoxide or appliance gas leaks where clients may not have the resources to get appliances checked or repaired, he said.

He added: “We do some health and safety work that frankly, has probably saved some people’s lives.”

For more information on weatherization services, go to Arapahoe County’s Weatherization Assistance website, email or call 303-636-1983.

Daniel Smith