12/11/09 — WAGES gets funds to weatherize homes

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WAGES gets funds to weatherize homes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 11, 2009 1:46 PM

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Dannie Harrell, left, and Mark Timms pump insulation into the roof of a double-wide trailer in Dudley as part of WAGES' Weatherization Assistance Program.

Wayne County will benefit from the president's stimulus package, with a portion being received for use by the Weatherization Assistance Program at WAGES.

Part of the American Recovery and Reconciliation Act, which is the stimulus package, will be parceled out over the next three years, said Dr. Marlee Ray, WAGES executive director.

"We will receive over the next three years up to $3 million to weatherize homes in Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties," she said. "This is time-limited money through March 2012."

The funding means two things for the county, Ms. Ray said -- residents in need of more energy-efficient homes will be able to take advantage of the service, and additional jobs will be created to accommodate the requests.

"Based on having received this stimulus money, we have significantly increased the number of work crews available to perform this assessment and weatherization," she said.

The Weatherization Assistance Program formerly had a staff of eight, including clerical, energy auditors and health technicians.

"The stimulus money has created jobs. We have added 13 people, created 13 new jobs because we have received this funding," she said. "We may grow even more."

WAGES hires and trains its own work crews and relies on local vendors to do some of the contract work, Ms. Ray said.

Now it's just a matter of getting the word out to the public.

"We were flooded with calls when we first heard about the stimulus money. When we finally got the money Dec. 1, the calls have stopped, so we want people to know," said Mark Smith, weatherization coordinator.

"The money is here and we're ready to take applications and do more assessments and have our crews out in the community," Ms. Ray said.

The weatherization effort, begun in 1976, has evolved over the years to focus more on energy efficiency. It is not a remodeling, maintenance or home renovation program, and incidental repairs to a home are made only to aid the installation and preservation of weatherization materials, not to improve the value of the home.

"Years ago in the '70s, people thought that the way to make your home most energy efficient was to replace windows and doors," Ms. Ray said. "The technology today has shown that there are greater measures, such as insulation sealing. The focus now is on that kind of thing."

"We do a lot of duct testing and repair duct leakage, heating and air conditioning systems are clean-tuned and evaluated, repaired and replaced if conditions warrant," Smith added.

The process begins with a detailed energy audit and assessment.

Before that, though, eligibility must be determined and is usually done on a priority basis.

"For example, seniors over 65 receive a higher priority, disabled and people with children under 5 and of course whether they have heat or not makes a difference," Ms. Ray said.

The application process is fairly simple and can be done by a phone call, said Judy Pareti, who works in the Weatherization program office.

"Doing the application process doesn't take that long, it's the clients getting all the documentation to us" that takes time, she said.

Families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level -- $21,660 for one resident, adding $7,480 for each additional household member -- with at least one member receiving cash assistance payments, are eligible for weatherization services.

The service can be delivered to single-family homes, multi-family dwellings and mobile homes, officials say. The resident does not have to own the home to be eligible for services. Those renting can also apply but must have written permission from the landlord before services can be performed. Landlords are also required to make a small contribution toward the work to be completed.

Ms. Ray's office is also broadening its approach to raising awareness of the program, she said.

"If someone has a church group, civic group, club or government group that would like information or a presentation, that would give us another way of outreach and to let the community know what we do," she said.

For more information on the program or to apply for services, call Faye Skinner at 734-1178, ext. 226.