Tri-Cap helps residents keep warm in winterDecember 13, 2010
By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer
As winter approaches and the temperature drops, homeowners turn up the heat to stay warm.
But for some residents, cranking up the furnace doesn’t always help.
“In past winters, basically the only really warm place was the living room and the bathroom,” Huntingburg resident Arlene Siddons said. “The kitchen and the bedrooms were ice cold.”
Siddons’ home, built in 1910, was riddled with air leaks that allowed heat to escape and cold air to blow in. Her old furnace ran almost constantly, raising her utility bills to the point where she had trouble affording them.
But that will change this year. Siddons learned in September that she had been accepted by Tri-Cap’s weatherization program. Her home would be weatherized at no cost to her.
“I was very, very happy,” she said. “I’ve never had anything like this done before.”
Tri-Cap is the local community action agency that serves five counties: Dubois, Pike, Gibson, Greene and Warrick. The weatherization program focuses on helping low-income families decrease their utility bills by making their homes more energy efficient.
“The whole process starts with an energy audit,” Debbie Schmitt of Tri-Cap said. “Someone will go in and basically see how much heat is being lost in the home. Then they find those places and plug them up.”
The program is funded by five federal grants through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and income from Tri-Cap’s for-profit work. Residents who don’t qualify for free services may hire Tri-Cap to do the job. Money earned through that method is then funneled back into the program to help pay for those in need.
“If you want to have this done in your own home, you can choose a contractor, Tri-Cap or whoever,” Joyce Fleck, Tri-Cap’s interim executive director, said. “But if you choose Tri-Cap, you’re helping someone else at the same time because what you pay goes right back into the community.”
While the grant funding is regulated as to what it can be used for, income from for-profit activities and donations is not.
“We can use that money to possibly do some more things to help,” Ted Ziegler, the weatherization office manager, said.
For instance, the current grants do not allow for window replacement. But if someone is in desperate need of a new window, Tri-Cap can use the unregulated funds to install one.
A weatherization crew began air-sealing Siddons’ home Dec. 1 after replacing her old furnace with an energy-efficient model. The team sealed her cellar and crawl space walls with a two-part foam that also acts as an insulator. Workers also sealed her attic and added cellulose insulation.
Siddons, a bit nervous about the work being done on her home, asked many questions of the crew throughout the process.
“They’re very polite and will answer my questions truthfully,” she said, eyeing a worker’s legs as he squeezed into her attic Dec. 1 using a square access hole above her stove that is about 16 inches wide.
Tri-Cap’s weatherization program was one of the first the organization started after it was incorporated in 1966. With 25 paid employees, a separate office and a budget of more than $2.5 million, weatherization is now Tri-Cap’s largest program.
Crews work on homes year-round. As of November, 203 homes had been weatherized this year, 86 of them in Dubois County, and more than 30 low-income residents were on a waiting list.
“It never goes unused, that’s for sure,” Fleck said.
Residents don’t even have to own their homes, Ziegler said. Renters also can receive the service so long as the landlord agrees.
The program’s goal is to save a person about 25 percent on utility bills.
“Through all the homes we do, I think we come close to 25 percent savings,” Ziegler said. “We always shoot for higher. There are some homes where we save them 40 or 50 percent.”
About two months ago, Tri-Cap weatherized Holland residents Andrew and Vilene Meyer’s 1920s home and replaced their furnace. The couple noticed a difference in the environment of their home, though they have yet to pay a cold-weather utility bill.
“You don’t have a draft coming in around the doors and things like that,” Andrew Meyer said. “So far, so good. They tried to insulate every hole that they could find. They worked quickly and they worked hard and I would give them a very high recommendation.”
Siddons is unsure how much she will save on her bills this winter, but she is positive it will be substantial.
“I’ll have to wait on my utility bill, but I know it will help me out,” she said. “They don’t know how much I appreciate it.”
Sometimes, residents who qualify in terms of income are not able to receive the service because of some other problem with their home, such as a major water leak that would create a mold problem when the house is sealed up.
“Those are always hard,” Schmitt said. “If we could take our private funds and fix that house, then we could go in and weatherize it. But right now, the unrestricted funding is just not there to help everybody that we want to help.”
While donations for Tri-Cap’s family assistance program are often the focus in the holiday season, donations to the weatherization program are always welcome.
“Monetary donations can be set aside for this program, to help pay for those extra things or those clients that are just right on the line in terms of income,” Fleck said. “We take a dollar and we stretch it six times. We have to because don’t know what the grants will look like in the future. No one does.”
Contact Alexandra Sondeen at email@example.com.
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