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Hannibal homeowner sees dramatic utility decrease with weatherization help

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hilly Jacklin's 25-year-old brown refrigerator had been unsuccessfully spray painted white when she bought it for $35.

The streaky paint job didn't bother Jacklin as much as the bills to run it.

"It was at a time when my other refrigerator had died, and I was really low on cash," Jacklin said.

Once the North East Community Action Corporation moved that refrigerator out and replaced it with a new model, Jacklin's electric bill dropped. NECAC went through Jacklin's home and initiated a variety of energy-saving improvements.

The nonprofit group bought a new stove and wrapped a blanket around the hot water heater. Workers glazed the window and placed weather stripping around the doors. Jacklin's 66 percent-efficient furnace was swapped for a modern 95 percent-efficient furnace.

"It did a ... poor job in the winter time of keeping the house warm," Jacklin said.

With three days and a crew of three workers making adjustments, Jacklin's electric bills have decreased 50 percent.

"I'm not afraid of my utility bills any more when I open them up," she said.

Jacklin invited a small group of public officials into her home Wednesday to showcase her now energy-efficient lifestyle. NECAC Weatherization Director Ken Schneidler said the nonprofit has faced multiple budget cuts. For nearly four years, the organization has received funding from Rural Utilities Service Stimulus money. NECAC's income-based program incorporates energy-efficient methods into the homes of those who need assistance to pay their energy bills.

"Basically, it takes people who are needing help on their utilities and helps them not need it as much, or not need it at all," Schneidler said.

Using stimulus money, NECAC weatherized more than 1,100 homes in the past two years. NECAC calculated the average annual savings to be $407 per household with a total of $447,700 for the 1,100 homes throughout the 12-county region.

"It means I'll never apply for energy assistance, because I can afford to pay for bills on my own," Jacklin said.

Assistant Weatherization Director Charles Sidwell explained that typically this program improves billings and safety, as well as the use of the house.

"A lot of the big houses that you see like this, they're basically living in two or three rooms and the rest of the house is sealed off in isolation," Sidwell said. "We're trying to make the entire house livable and comfortable."

NECAC also tests gas appliances for efficiency and proper ventilation, provides carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, and in Jacklin's case, the workers plugged up the holes in the attic to keep the raccoons out.

"Health and safety is a big issue with us," Sidwell said. "That's one of the first things we do when we come into a home."

Without the federal funding, NECAC weatherizes 120-140 homes each year. Schneidler hopes the governor will contribute money from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for weatherization so the program can continue doing projects, such as Jacklin's home.

"Through the stimulus funding, we (were able) to do quite a bit more," Schneidler said.

Maggie Menderski
Hannibal, Missouri