204 Homes Will Be Weatherized

County has $1.7 million to help low-income homeowners make houses energy efficient

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For apartment complexes like Pineview Manor, which houses low-income seniors, a tight budget did not allow room for things like replacing 23-year-old refrigerators.

Old appliances can waste energy, which costs the apartment complex that pays for the seniors’ utilities. They also cost consumers because higher energy consumption eventually translates into the need for more energy production.

A fresh dose of stimulus money will replicate across the county projects like last year’s $100,000 effort to make Pineview Manor apartments more energy efficient. The project also included updating the duct system, adding insulation and adding compact fluorescent light bulbs.

“It was huge,” said manager Peggy Newman, although she couldn’t say how much the project saved because utility bills run through the main company office.

Gila County’s Weatherization Assistance Program works with both the private and public sectors to help low-income residents upgrade refrigerators, windows, roofs, and heating and cooling systems.

The program usually receives about $130,000 annually from the Arizona Department of Commerce Energy Office. Through the federal stimulus bill, however, it will have $1.7 million to spend over three years. Arizona received $57 million statewide.

In Gila County, 204 low-income homes will become more energy efficient this year compared to the usual 30.

“We’re an awfully small county when you count us in the mix of things,” said county Housing Services Manager Malissa Buzan. “This will give us extra money to address health and safety and durability issues in homes we were having to walk away from before.”

The weatherization program began as an anti-poverty initiative after the 1973 oil embargo. It’s meant to help low-income families, who typically spend a higher percentage of their income on energy for their homes, according to the state department of commerce.

Buzan said she has been talking about remodeling for energy efficiency for years. “We’ve gone from a red-headed step-child to we’re the captain of the football team,” she said, adding that the money will also create jobs. “The whole idea of these stimulus funds is to put money on the street.”

Six contractors — three from southern Gila County and three from northern — will complete “weatherization boot camp” to receive certification.

Local contractor Byron Tanenhaus of Noble Building hopes the stimulus money will increase business.

“It helps me because I know it’s not someone just shopping to see if maybe they can afford something,” said Tanenhaus, who has reduced his one-time crew of six or seven men to two.

His new skill set from energy efficiency classes will last past the recession, he added. “We can build you an addition and show you how energy efficient it is.”

Buzan agreed. “Even after these dollars go away, it will be a business enhancement for those contractors.”

Utility companies like Arizona Public Service work with Buzan to help pay for upgrading homes. She also uses money from other governmental agencies, and one home can have as many as four or five different funding sources.

The process begins with an application. The county verifies that information, which includes income levels, and what the applicant believes the major issue is.

An applicant must make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $3,000 per month for a family of three.

Then, an energy audit reveals a home’s inefficiencies, which the weatherization program fixes.

“Weatherization dollars, to me, are prevention dollars,” Buzan said. Rather than bill assistance, she said the program helps prevent high bills in the first place.

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