WEIRTON - As the thermostat drops into frigid temperatures and snow falls onto rooftops, many residents also are seeing a rise in the cost to heat their homes.
For those with financial problems, it can create a real hardship, but a local agency is able to help them reduce such expenses by strengthening their homes against assaults from the elements.
"Our goal is to tighten up a house to keep hot air in and cold air out," said Dave Buhl, director of C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc.'s Weatherization Assistance program, which serves low-income residents in Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties.
Judy Raveaux, chief executive officer of C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., said, "The program provides a crucial service to area residents especially with the economic downturn and rising energy cost in our state. It has reduced energy costs for the elderly, disabled, families with children and households with high energy burdens and has made a meaningful difference in the lives of our customers by utilizing state-of-the-art energy audits, air-sealing, insulation and heating combustion analysis and repair/replacement to make energy efficiency improvements in low-income and moderate-income homes."
Crews with the program have sealed and insulated attics, sealed doors and windows and tested, repaired and sealed ducts and modified and retrofitted furnaces.
Buhl said a crew member will use a device called a blower door, an adjustable frame with a nylon canvas and fan, to simulate a 20-mph wind while another uses an infrared camera to detect areas where air is entering.
The agency can't afford to replace doors and windows, though it occasionally has built a door to fit an unconventional opening, he said.
Through such measures, the agency often is able to reduce a resident's energy usage by about 30 percent, Buhl said. He stressed a drop in the individual's utility bills may vary with the present market.
The program is among weatherization assistance programs funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. A similar program is available to Jefferson County residents through the Jefferson County Community Action Council.
Jim Boniey, chief operations officer for C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., said the agency has been involved with the weatherization assistance program since 1990 and has aided thousands of people.
"It's a proven program. These guys are highly trained and skilled in what they do," Boniey said.
Buhl said C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc.'s program was serving 12-15 houses per month through economic stimulus funds awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. But with those funds exhausted, it now averages six to 12 homes per month, with about 100 households on a waiting list, he said.
He said first priority goes to individuals who are elderly, disabled or have children, with the availability of a working heat system also a major factor.
"It's about helping people who need it the most," Buhl said.
To qualify, households must be at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which often varies according to the present cost of living, he said.
With the exception of senior citizens on Social Security, few are unemployed, he said.
"A lot of our customers are working minimum wage jobs. I call them the working poor," Buhl said.
He noted households with an occupant receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits also are eligible.
Buhl said the program also will work with landlords who meet certain qualifications and agree to provide 50 percent of the cost for materials and labor.
For information about C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc.'s Weatherization Assistance program, call (304) 797-7733.
Buhl said he and others with the program also inform residents about smaller things they can do to reduce their energy use.
"The most important thing we do is client education, because there are so many things you can do to save money," he said.
He offered the following tips:
Do all laundry at one time, washing and drying full loads. After one dryer load is done, immediately put the next one in because the dryer's drum will still be hot and require less electricity to warm it.
Fill an empty gallon milk jug with water and place it in the freezer. The occupied space leaves less air for the freezer to cool, and the gallon can be removed, thawed and used in the event of a power outage.
Use power strips to cut off power to televisions, video players and other appliances that continue to draw a small amount of electricity when switched off.
Open drapes on bright days to take advantage of the sunlight's natural ability to warm a room.
Buhl said the agency also is planning to participate in the Healthy Homes Initiative, a national program that educates people about steps they can take to make their homes safer and healthier.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)