With the weather turning colder, Rockingham County's weatherization program is entering its busiest time of the year.
Fall is typically when Rockingham Community Action gets the most calls about its weatherization program, but it has been working on homes throughout the summer and will continue through the winter, said Andy Gray, the program's director.
"As the weather changes, we get more inquiries," Gray said. "But we are busy year-round. We don't have an offseason."
The program has weatherized 34 homes so far this year, and has 70 more in some phase of the process, Gray said.
With a considerably more robust budget, the state's weatherization program is looking to fix up as many as 4,000 homes over the next three years. In 2008, 674 homes were weatherized.
The state program received approximately $24 million in federal stimulus money to be used over the next three years. The grant makes for a huge increase in the program's budget, which is traditionally about $2 million. The program oversees six regional Community Action programs — including Rockingham Community Action — that accept applications for weatherization and have weatherizing experts on staff.
The weatherization process starts with a check for air leaks. Auditors place a large fan in the doorway of the home, and search the walls, floors and ceilings for drafts, which are plugged. Then the home is checked to see if additional insulation should be installed. Occasionally, new windows are also installed, Gray said.
State studies show weatherizing a home can cut heating expenses by 20 to 30 percent.
Program officials submitted a plan to the federal government that set a goal of weatherizing 2,600 homes in the state over the next three years, but they aim to do much more work than that, according to Nancy Gamble, director of the state's program.
"The formal state plan calls for 2,600 homes to be weatherized (in the next three years), but we are shooting for higher than that," Gamble said. "Somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 homes."
Half of the federally appropriated money was received in the spring. The federal government will withhold the other half until the state proves it will be used properly, Gamble said. But she said there is plenty of work to be done weatherizing homes in the state.
"I don't think that's a concern at all," she said. "It's certainly within our means to use the money in weatherization."
Part of the money has already been used to hire more weatherization auditors and give more staff training. Rockingham Community Action has doubled its auditor staff from two to four, Gray said.
The money also will be used to fix more homes and spend more money on those homes, Gamble said.
More households are now eligible for the program because the U.S. Department of Energy eased up on income requirements and spending caps on weatherization projects for households as part of the stimulus. The maximum income to be eligible for the program will increase from 185 percent above poverty level, or a $39,220 annual income for a four-person household, to 200 percent, or $42,400.
The state's program had spent about $3,000 per home in past years, and will now spend more than twice as much — $6,500, Gamble said. Community action programs could revisit homes previously weatherized that need more improvements.
"There are always some homes that will require a lot of measures," Gamble said. "In the past, we may not have done everything we wanted to do."
Of the 674 homes weatherized last year through the state's weatherization program, 100 of those were in Rockingham County.
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