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Free Weatherization Assistance Program helps eldery, disabled homeowners save on energy bills

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Last year, after a trip to the hospital with a bone infection, Donna Hayes, 63, realized she could not move her hands very well. Unable to work because of her disability, she was spending all her savings paying for her utilities and trying to take care of her house.

Now, this former lifeguard and pool manager from Cottage City, is looking forward to seeing a reduced electricity bill. She participated in a free income-based weatherization assistance program that could reduce her electrical bill by 30 to 35 percent.

“If I had to pay for this, it would have been about $3,000 worth of work. I would not be able to afford it,” Hayes said. “I’m so glad I have done it.… They did a marvelous job!”

Within two weeks of the county sending specialists to audit Hayes’ home to find out from where the energy fled her house, two members of the county’s weatherization staff came to make her 75-year-old house more energy-efficient.

The improvements included wrapping her heater, caulking all her 18 windows to reduce the chance of leaks, sealing the walls and pipes below her bathroom and kitchen sink and installing a new water-saving shower head.

“They were here from 7:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night and only took a lunch break,” Hayes said.

Under the Weatherization Assistance Program, Prince George’s County can provide up to $6,500 in energy efficiency measures for each eligible home, said Eric C. Brown, director of the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development.

The program, he said, is geared to help the county’s most vulnerable — the elderly and disabled. This statewide program has helped 283 Prince George’s families since its inception in 2010.

Now the department of housing is trying to get more people to use its $2.1 million budget, received from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“If we don’t use it, we won’t get the funding next year,” said Alexis Revis Yeoman, the housing department’s public information officer.

Eligible homeowners must meet minimum income requirements and be elderly or disabled, said Brown. Families with children who are 5 years old or younger may also be eligible.

“I’m telling everyone I know about it,” Hayes said.

She helped to organize a meeting to tell others about her experience.

“I didn’t think we would have too many people, but about 40 people showed up,” she said.

“The way the economy is now, everybody is trying to find ways to save energy,” Brown said. He added that homeowners could benefit from the program when the temperatures are warmer.

“The caulking and sealing of windows and insulation work regardless of the weather. The program helps you keep your air in and would help your electric bill year round,” he said.

Interested homeowners may apply by calling the Department of Housing and Community Development at 301-883-5491.

Maria-Pia Negro