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EarthTalk - Are there any programs designed to help working people afford energy efficiency upgrades?

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Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

I’d like to upgrade the energy efficiency of my condo but can’t afford the up-front cost of new equipment and materials. Are there any federal or other programs designed to help working people afford to make such transitions?

Paul B., Monroe, NY

As of now, residential and commercial buildings contribute up to 40 percent of the world’s energy consumption. Increasing the energy efficiency of these structures can go a long way toward reducing that consumption and our carbon footprint while saving money along the way.

The biggest pitfall with investing in efficient energy sources is the upfront cost. Low-income households which could benefit most from such upgrades are the least likely to have the funds to do so. But now, utilities and local governments are working to implement these services prioritizing needy households.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) uses U.S. Department of Energy funds to reduce the energy bills of low-income households by helping to pay for efficiency upgrades. The program has benefited over seven million American families so far. Every year, WAP funds such upgrades in 35,000 households, saving almost $400 annually on each. To qualify for WAP, your household must have an annual income equal to or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Another place to look for help is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Using U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funds, LIHEAP provides free energy upgrades that will decrease monthly energy bills while concurrently improving residents’ health and safety. Household incomes must be at or below 60 percent of their state's median income to meet eligibility requirements.

Nonprofits, usually using WAP funds, also offer a range of incentives for upgrading energy efficiency. They also provide weatherization to households that can’t afford it. By searching “weatherization non-profits” and your state, you can find an array of organizations that can help upgrade your home. These weatherization programs usually offer a selection of efficiency upgrades including improved insulation and heating systems, fixing leaks and gaps within pipes, and repairing windows and doors. To apply, you can often find directions on the organization's website. In general, the first step is determining your eligibility; you will usually need proof of annual income. Then, you can complete the application process online or contact a local administrator. If your application is accepted, you can move forward.

But what can you do if you aren't eligible for these programs? You can still weatherize your own home by fixing minor things around the house. One thing you can do is seal up leaks within air pipes. This can cut your energy consumption by 10 to 20 percent. In addition, by adding insulation, you can make your home less vulnerable to temperature change. You should also clean your filters regularly to make your system run more smoothly. Even simple things like switching to LEDs will increase your efficiency. 

These small steps can add up and boost the energy efficiency of your home in surprising amounts. The sooner we implement such steps, the sooner we can tackle the problem of climate change making our world less hospitable.


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