10/26/04 — WAGES weatherization program -- it's no longer putting plastic over windows

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WAGES weatherization program -- it's no longer putting plastic over windows

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 26, 2004 2:04 PM

The focus of WAGES' weatherization program has changed drastically since the days of putting plastic on the windows for insulation.

Its primary goal continues to be reducing energy costs, but has expanded to include educating the public on how to do that.

Mike Kohler, weatherization coordinator for WAGES, said there are still a lot of misconceptions about the program.

"We get calls to do everything," he said. "A lot of the calls we get want someone to fix the floor, a porch railing, or the roof." But he added, "We're not supposed to do any construction unless it affects the energy usage."

Kohler said his department is not in the business of heating and air conditioning repair, despite receiving ongoing requests to do them. Instead, it looks at energy use and advises on energy savings and safety measures. Typically, that means repairing windows and doors, sealing air leaks, and in some cases, installing insulation.

The service is geared to ease the financial burden on low-income residents, usually on a fixed income. Many of the tips offered, though, could be done by everyone.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, which funds the program, weatherization can reduce heating bills by 31 percent and overall energy bills by $237 a year if the client cooperates with the recommendations.

Nationwide, the goal is to weatherize 94,450 homes this year. Kohler said Wayne County will do 122 homes this year and has 181 more on a waiting list.

The process begins with an assessment that usually takes two or three hours and is done in the home. Applicants must be a homeowner, qualifying based on income, and must provide proof of previous energy bills.

There is no charge for the service for homeowners who meet the qualifications or the owner of a rental property. Others deemed eligible pay $275 for the service.

Testing is done during the home assessment to determine where a lot of air comes into the home, particularly doors and windows.

"You would be surprised at how many places you go into that have a good storm window and storm door and they're open," Kohler said.

Two other common entry points are under the sink where the pipes come in, or in the pipes around the washing machine or the vent on the dryer.

"Even if people have central heat, that system is actually pulling the air from the outside through all the cracks in their house," Kohler said. "So when the fan is running, more cold air is coming in than when it's not."

Outlets are also typically ignored but could be better insulated.

Kohler said there are a lot of small things homeowners can do to save money on heating bills, but they add up to substantial savings.

"Older homes in particular do not have adequate insulation, especially in the attic," he said. "You lose about 80 percent of the heat that goes through the ceiling."

Burning unnecessary lights also accounts for a lot, he said.

"If you have a light that's on more than two hours a day, find a smaller wattage," he said. "Many leave a bathroom light on all night...People also love 100 watt bulbs, but you don't have to have 100 watts to see. A 40-watt or 60-watt will do just as well, or a fluorescent light."

The weatherization program, Kohler said, used to be something done for the client. Now it is more about a partnership with the client.

For more information on the program or to make an appointment for an assessment, call 734-1178, ext. 229.