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Suzanne Monahan and Joan Markon 

Suzanne Monahan (left), a Fond du Lac tribal member who received weatherization work on her home, and Joan Markon (right), director of Community Services at Fond du Lac, are please with the work provided by the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency.

Tribal homes receive weatherization

Fond du Lac, Arrowhead agency partner to weatherize tribal homes

Suzanne Monahan Residence

Location: Fond du Lac Residence

Weatherization Improvements: Attic and sidewall insulation, air sealing, weather stripping, furnace maintenance

Weatherization Service Providers: Fond du lac Band of  Lake Superior Chippewa and the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency

Thanks to the partnership of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), many tribal households are enjoying more energy-efficient homes and significantly reduced heating bills. Tribal families are benefiting from the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides low-income homeowners in Minnesota with audits and energy-saving measures to reduce home energy and utility bills. The program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources, which partners with 32 local service providers to deliver energy conservation improvements. AEOA is the service provider for Fond du Lac and an extensive area across northeastern Minnesota.

Joan Markon, director of Community Services at Fond du Lac Reservation, identifies tribal members who qualify for weatherization work—people with high-energy costs who are eligible for Energy Assistance to help pay for their heating bills. She then connects the families with AEOA to schedule an energy audit of their home and determine cost-effective conservation work. Weatherization services may include energy education, exterior wall and attic insulation, and air leak sealing. Safety and efficiency testing determines necessary repairs or replacements to home heating systems, ensures carbon monoxide safety, and reduces fuel consumption.

Tighter home reduces heat loss

Tribal member Suzanne Monahan recently received weatherization assistance. An AEOA crew insulated her home’s attic and walls, sealed air leaks, added a storm window, insulated and caulked windows, weather stripped doors, cleaned and tuned the furnace, and installed carbon monoxide detectors. The result was a much “tighter” home with significantly reduced heat losses.

“When a furnace upgrade, insulation, and attic air leak sealing is carefully done on a home, we often see 30 to 40 percent energy savings for the homeowner,” said Jon Tekautz, supervisor for the AEOA Weatherization Program.

“I’m very happy with the results,” said Monahan. “The crew was here for two days and was very professional and efficient. The work made a huge difference. It used to feel chilly and drafty. Now the floor is warmer, and every part of our home feels more comfortable. I set the thermostat at 65 degrees and it feels like 70 in here. My heating bill is almost half what it was.”

Brian Leppala Working 

AEOA crew member Brian Leppala installs attic insulation.

Stimulus funds expand weatherization

Monahan was a beneficiary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal stimulus package that has provided $132 million to Minnesota’s expanded weatherization efforts. The stimulus money, a tenfold increase in regular annual funding for weatherization, is intended to conserve energy and create jobs through March 2012.

In a normal year, Markon said Fond du Lac would receive enough funding to weatherize just three homes. But in 2009, about 20 tribal homes got energy upgrades, and by the end of 2010, 20 to 25 more will receive weatherization, thanks to the stimulus funding.

“We have more than 500 tribal members who qualify for Energy Assistance, and most of those qualify for weatherization as well,” said Markon. Many of those homes could be weatherized, but because of limited funding households are targeted that need the work the most: those with elderly, disabled, and families with children and those that have the highest energy bills.

Each reservation in Minnesota conducts weatherization a bit differently, said Daryl Sager, tribal weatherization field monitor. Some have their own auditors and contract the insulation work, while others have their own crews to do the work. “Our partnership with AEOA has worked extremely well,” said Markon. “Even as weatherization opportunities have increased for our residents, AEOA has served our tribal community well.”

AEOA’s Tekautz agrees the partnership is strong. His agency has the ability to serve a high volume of homes. The stimulus funding created a six-fold increase in his agency’s services, which includes weatherization for residents of Duluth and surrounding counties. His team hired more than 50 new people—80 percent of whom were unemployed—to meet the energy conservation work demands.

Safe and healthy homes are critical

Safety is a primary goal, Tekautz said. “We pride ourselves on doing a complete analysis of the mechanical systems of a home, from the furnace to the water heater to the duct work,” he said. “All of our auditors carry carbon monoxide and gas leak detectors. Health and safety are critical in our energy auditing work.”

Blower-door testing is conducted to determine the air leakage in a dwelling and the overall duct leakage in heating distribution. The measure for the Monahan home was “about twice the average amount,” said Tekautz, meaning the home was experiencing huge heat losses from air leaks. After sealing, the air leakage rate was reduced by half. This tightening of Monahan’s home creates a more energy-efficient dwelling. “Weatherization work on the average decreases heating bills by 23 percent, but it can be much higher, depending on each home,” said Tekautz.

The energy savings translate to less reliance on fossil fuel consumption. “We’re doing our part to help as many tribal families achieve self-sufficiency, reduce energy consumption, and save money,” said Tekautz. “And we’re putting people to work at the same time—and at a good wage. That’s a win-win for the homeowner, the environment, and the Fond du Lac community.”

To learn more

For more information about Minnesota's Weatherization Assistance Program-including service provider contacts and qualification requirements-visit the Divison of Energy Resources.