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Warming for winter

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Running the furnace on overdrive isn't the only way to stay warm this winter.

Weatherizing could be the answer for some.

Sherry Archibald, director of community services at the Community Action Agency of St. Clair County, said her organization has weatherized 374 homes since April. Eligible homeowners or renters can participate in the weatherization program at no cost.

"It's a much more effective way of spending government dollars to help a family," she said.

The program has been funded by a three-year grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act since April 2009.

To upgrade the home, contractors can add insulation to walls and attics, repair or replace a furnace, and caulk around windows, or add weather stripping around doors, Archibald said.

She said taking such steps can help reduce utility bills, leaving homeowners with money in their budgets to pay for necessities such as food or gasoline.

People who don't qualify for the Community Action Agency's program can do a home energy audit, Archibald said. The audit can determine improvements needed to cut a home's heat loss and reduce energy bills.

Tim Peltier said insulation blown into the attic of 1428 Minnie St. in Port Huron on Tuesday would do just that. Peltier, who works for Matt Messer Builder of Chesterfield, was weatherizing the home for the Community Action Agency's program.

The new insulation will keep the home's heat in during the winter months, he said. It also will help the home stay cool during warm weather.

Peltier also planned to replace glass on broken windows and install drywall.

Tim Lubbers, SEMCO Energy spokesman, said the average residential customer spends about $540 during the winter heating season from November to March, based on the company's current rates for gas utilities. That's about two-thirds of what the average residential customer spends on gas utilities for the entire year -- about $790.

Small steps also can help people reduce their energy costs, said Scott Simons, spokesman for DTE Energy.

Caulking cracks and putting plastic around windows can help keep heat in a house. Air leaks in duct work can be sealed off with foil-faced tape. People also should ensure air flow from heating vents and registers is not blocked by drapes or furniture, Simons said.

Residents should change their furnace filter once a month so the furnace operates more efficiently, he said.

Lubbers said energy saving kits at home improvement stores can help people do some of these tasks. Sealing off unused rooms and keeping heat down when people are away from home also can help, he said.

"It can result in real savings," Lubbers said. "Particularly if you're doing something you don't normally do."

Julianne Mattera