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Jack Bethke with Louis and Gretchen Wilson 

Louis and Gretchen Wilson (right) were most grateful to Jack Bethke (left) and Community Action of Minneapolis for their new high-efficiency furnace and other energy-saving improvements made to their home.

Weatherization lowers heat costs

Minneapolis couple’s heat costs reduced through state’s Weatherization Program

Gretchen & Louis Wilson Residence

Location: Minneapolis

Weatherization Improvements: High efficiency furnace, attic insulation, air-sealing, weather stripping, ventilation fan

Weatherization Service Provider: Community Action of Minneapolis

When Eric Boyd arrived to inspect the weatherization work conducted on a north Minneapolis home, he was overwhelmed by the reception.

“The homeowners greeted us with a big hug,” said Boyd, a weatherization monitor for the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program. “They were tremendously grateful and said it was one of the greatest things to ever happen to them.”

Boyd was recounting his visit to the Gretchen and Louis Wilson home. The Wilsons were all smiles because they had recently received a new high-efficiency furnace and significant energy upgrades to their 1950’s rambler-style home. All told, they received more than $7,000 in energy-efficient improvements, thanks to the Weatherization Program. What’s more, they were beaming about their latest utility bill from CenterPoint Energy; it showed a $232 credit from the savings.

“We couldn’t believe it when we saw our bill,” said Gretchen Wilson, a veteran on disability who lives on a fixed income with her husband. “We have been toasty warm this winter—no drafts, no icy windows—thanks to the weatherization work of Jack (Bethke) and his weatherization crew. What a great program! We’ve been telling everyone about it—friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners. We could never have afforded the work that was done.”

Gretchen Wilson heard about Weatherization Assistance, a program that increases energy efficiency for low-income households, through a VISTA contact at the Veteran’s Hospital. She applied fi rst for Energy Assistance to help with their high energy bills. Over 160,000 Minnesota households get some financial assistance with their fuel bills each year. Energy Assistance, through Community Action of Minneapolis (CAMPLS), referred Gretchen to the Weatherization Program because the family had a disability status and was struggling with high heating costs.

Dangerous CO levels discovered

The energy auditor assigned to assess the Wilson home took one look at the couple’s energy bills and knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. The gas bill was about twice as high as it should have been for a house its size.

When assessing the home’s energy needs and doing safety tests, Minneapolis weatherization auditor, Juan Palacios, immediately “red tagged” the Wilson’s furnace as unsafe and inefficient. It was emitting dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) due to a cracked heat exchanger. What’s more, the house had significant air leaks, where heated air was escaping into the attic and eventually to the outside.

To seal up the home and retain heat, the energy auditor authorized workers to install attic insulation and plug the home’s air leaks. Weather stripping was applied around doors, and air leaks were sealed; CO detectors and smoke alarms were installed, along with a bathroom exhaust fan. Those improvements and a new high-efficiency furnace combined to make for a tighter, far more energy-saving home. Work was completed in mid November, and the results were felt immediately. “A 200 percent difference—like night and day,” said Gretchen Wilson.

All of the weatherization work on the Wilson home was coordinated by CAMPLS, which, in a regular year, would weatherize about 300 homes. But with the state receiving $131 million in stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), “We’re being asked to do seven times the number of homes over an 18- to 24-month period,” said Jack Bethke, manager of weatherization for CAMPLS. “So, the stimulus funds are pushing us to dramatically expand our services.” Bethke said his agency and others across the state have ramped up hiring to meet the demands of the new funding.

Minnesota Service Providers

Serving more with energy efficiency

According to Marilou Cheple, Weatherization Supervisor in the Office of Energy Security, 17,000 households overall in Minnesota are expected to receive weatherization work from the ARRA funds by March 2012. The majority of those were completed by the end of 2010. In a normal year, the state’s Weatherization Program serves about 4,000 homes.

Cheple said that weatherization assistance is available to homeowners and renters who are at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. Priority is given to households with at least one elderly or disabled member and to those with the highest heating costs.

Eligible households receive an energy audit to determine cost-effective measures to meet the needs of each home. Services that are typically provided include energy education, exterior wall and attic insulation, and air leak sealing. The energy audit also does efficiency testing and determines repairs or necessary replacements of home heating systems, ensuring energy efficiency and safety.

Cheple explained that with the increased federal funding, weatherization assistance is able to more thoroughly address the energy conservation needs of a home. “For instance, in cases where furnace upgrades are combined with insulation, air leak sealing, and new efficient appliances from the local utility, we can achieve household savings of over 30 percent in energy bills.”

“We’re very grateful to the Community Action staff and the fine job they did on our house,” said Louis Wilson. “They came quickly and took really good care of us and we now have a warm house, and our gas bill is way down. We are very happy.”

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.