DOVER — Even before the government shutdown began, New Hampshire’s weatherization assistance program was already struggling with funding for the year. Cuts have been felt across the state, including Strafford County.
“Funding has been cut back to virtually nothing,” said Community Action Partnership of Strafford County Executive Director Betsey Andrews Parker. Three years ago, during the 2010-2011 year, federal stimulus money provided the county with more than $2 million just for their weatherization program.
This year, weatherization for the entire state stands at around $1.1 million, leaving Parker and her staff only approximately $300,000 to work with.
The Weatherization Assistance Program is meant to assist low-income individuals or families to make their homes warmer and more efficient by insulating, fixing holes, and installing new heating systems. It is run by the state and funded by the federal government. State funds are split between community action partnership offices across the state, and each partnership works with clients to weatherize their homes.
According to Turgeon, some of the most common fixes with homes include insulation, air sealing, and replacing refrigerators.
“We weatherized over 300 units in 2010-2011,” Parker said. “We hope to serve 40 units this year. We have a wait list and it is not getting any shorter.”
“There isn’t enough money going around,” she added.
“There’s an enormous drop (of money),” agreed N.H. Weatherization Assistance Program Manager Kirk Stone. “It’s certainly creating a shortage of resources for doing this kind of work.”
The current government shutdown does not affect the money for this year, as the budget was approved earlier in the year; however, it “may contribute to the delays in future grants like we have seen in recent years,” according to Weatherization Program Coordinator Josh Turgeon.
“Our funding has been reduced significantly since the end of ARRA/Stimulus,” said Turgeon in an email interview. “Our program actually now receives less funding than pre-ARRA levels. We have downsized from four energy auditors to one.”
Even with such a drop in funding, Turgeon noted that CAP’s Weatherization is working year round on homes due to additional funding from community block grants in Dover and Rochester, as well as some rebates available for PSNH and UNITIL customers. The community block grants contribute $25,000 from Dover and $50,000 from Rochester toward weatherization efforts.
According to officials, applying for weatherization is straight-forward. When a qualifying individual applies for fuel assistance, they can automatically apply for weatherization at the same time.
“It’s a fairly simple process,” said Stone. “We try to make it as easy and clear as possible.”
“It is helpful if the client selects ‘interested in weatherization’ as part of their fuel assistance application,” said Turgeon. “Due to our limited funding and resources we can only get to a small number of homes per year, so the eligible households must be prioritized.”
According to Turgeon, prioritization means helping those who are elderly, disabled, or families with young children. Turgeon first schedules an energy audit to determine what fixes should be made to the house before contractors working with CAP can start their work.
“We are able to install almost any measure that is cost effective,” he said. “…We work with a subcontractor to make the necessary improvements. After all the work is complete our energy auditor will conduct a final inspection and conduct a ‘test out’ to make sure the heating, hot water, and ventilation systems are working properly and safely.”
While weatherization costs vary, Turgeon said he estimated the average cost to weatherize a home needing a hot water or heating system to be around $5,000-$6,000. The fixes made to the home and its heating system can typically save homeowners 20-30 percent of their energy usage.
“The need for fuel is reduced,” said Stone. “It does cut down on their energy costs.”
One benefactor of the weatherization assistance program is Rodney Trask of Rochester. According to Turgeon, Trask’s home contained an unsafe gas heater emitting carbon monoxide, in addition to walls and pipes needing insulation.
In an interview, Trask said he had many problems trying to repair his furnace before he received CAP assistance.
“Everybody I called said there was nothing wrong with the furnace,” he said. “The house was so cold.”
Contractors working with the weatherization program made fixes including wraps around hot water pipes, airsealing, and insulating spaces in the house.
“By utilizing funding from PSNH, UNITIL, and CDBG (Community Development Block Grant), we were able to reduce (his) natural gas usage by 25 percent and he is more comfortable in his home,” said Turgeon.
Trask said he was “very happy” with the improvements made to his home, adding, “They were very courteous, they were here every day; they cleaned up when they were done. I’m 100 percent satisfied.” Without it, he said, “I would have been in a lot of trouble. No one could fix my furnace.”
Turgeon said many other clients feel the same way.
“The response has always been very positive. We are often able to make a big difference to the houses we weatherize,” he said. “However lately we have had to inform clients that funding is very limited and we can only serve those with the greatest need.”
The fuel assistance application open until April 30, and those who qualify for fuel assistance can automatically apply for weatherization assistance as well. To apply visit Community Action Partnership of Strafford County at http://www.straffordcap.org/programs/fuel-assistance.