Small budget, big impact: Champaign weatherization program reaches more homes

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Community action agencies for weatherization programs, compiled by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity.

With a budget of $600,000 the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission Weatherization program often can be overlooked. However, it helps many low-income families save money and get access to basic housing needs.

“Savings are gained utilizing insulation, air sealing, and installing more efficient heating and cooling systems. Health and safety issues are addressed as funding allows,” said Michael Hunter, Director of Weatherization for the commission.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity estimates that completed homes save an average of 20%-30% per year in home energy costs.

“Items replaced through the weatherization program are recycled whenever possible. New technology is utilized and high performance, high-efficiency LO-NOx equipment is installed or replaced whenever possible,” Hunter said. 

According to the CCRPC 2018 annual report, the average material cost per home was $7,471. 39 homes received these services in 2018, an increase of 16 homes from the previous year. Hunter said he would like to see it increased, with more houses applying and obtaining services. 

“Potentially 55 homes this year give or take,” said Hunter of how many homes would be in the program.

All weatherization work is done by the CCRPC’s list of qualified contractors. Not only does the customer save, but more efficient and safe homes help the community as the environment has fewer negative impacts.

Hunter says they follow American Society of Heath, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers standards when weatherizing new homes.

“ASHRAE standards are the new construction standards relative to ventilation and we apply them to our completed projects. This can result in a continuous flow fan installed to provide changes of air to a client’s home,” said Hunter.  

To apply for the Weatherization program, the total home income has to be at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. If a household member receives Social Security Income or receives Aid to the Blind, Aged, Disabled that would make them eligible regardless of income. Weatherization can be done on all kinds of homes, including apartments, manufactured homes, and privately-owned single-family homes. 

The state weatherization page says, “Savings vary across the state according to the weather and/or cost of fuel in that locality… However, specific energy savings may depend on such things as weatherization measures installed, changing fuel costs, weather and the energy conservation habits of the occupants.”

To determine which applicants get services, the program splits them into two groups, priority and non-priority. Homes containing elderly people (60 and over), people that have a disabling condition and/or young children (5 years of age or below) will be given priority and receive weatherization services first. 

Everybody else is non-priority and will be served if funding is available. Some eligible households may not receive weatherization assistance during the program year they applied in. 

According to the 2018 CCRPC annual report the agency has a budget of $22 million dollars, meaning the weatherization program gets only about three percent of the agency funds.

On the weatherization page on the CCRPC website the program “provides safe energy-efficient homes to low-income members of our community.”

According to the state weatherization page, the maximum amount of money that can be spent on a house for energy-related weatherization and repair work is $15,000. The maximum that can be spent on health and safety-related measures is $3,500.

Many services can be done by the program, to determine which will be the most cost-effective an energy assessor will record all the required house structural information and then use an online energy audit program.

The CCRPC weatherization page says, “Weatherization services… include insulating walls, floors, perimeters, and attics; furnace work, including replacing existing low-efficiency furnaces or cleaning and tuning higher-efficiency furnaces; and air sealing. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights are installed and primary refrigerators can be replaced if our testing shows the replacement to be cost-effective.”

Even with all they can do, some services are not possible. The program cannot replace roofs, siding or deal with major plumbing issues because of the cost of those repairs. Minor amounts of those services are handled on a case-by-case basis as they may be granted if the budget allows.

The program also can’t give new windows because of cost but they can be repaired to reduce air infiltration.

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