Energy-saving projects to help 10,000 Tennessee homes

TENNESSEE - More than 10,000 low-income homes could receive energy-saving upgrades in Tennessee by 2010 from a state weatherization program primed with nearly $100 million in federal economic stimulus dollars.

That's as many houses as in all of Morristown or Cookeville, according to U.S. Census figures.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that Tennessee had been awarded $39.

6 million toward as much as $99 million in home weatherization money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The program promises to dwarf any similar effort in the Volunteer State since the Tennessee Valley Authority promoted energy efficiency and heat pumps in the 1980s. TVA is helping train inspectors for the current program.

Already, 250 energy auditors have been licensed, 350 building contractors have been certified and work orders for 1,015 homes have been signed or sent out for bids — everything from caulking windows to installing heating systems.

"This is a blessing, a true blessing," north Nashville resident Carolyn Johnson, 50, told The Tennessean.

Contractors were recently caulking vents and windows, wrapping the water heater and pipes in the crawl space, weather-stripping doors, adding insulation to the attic and making other changes that should lower the $500 heating bills and $180 cooling bills on her 1,900-square-foot house.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services and 18 regional agencies are administering Tennessee's stimulus weatherization program, and should be the first places people contact to apply for assistance.

Department spokeswoman Michelle Mowery Johnson estimated 11,000 to 12,000 homes would be worked on. Program funds must be spent by September 2010.

Officials hope the stimulus money will help eliminate a 3,000-person statewide waiting list. The state typically funds about $6 million in upgrades to about 2,500 homes annually.

The federal money also will make it possible to increase the amount spent on each home from $3,500 to $6,500, and expanded income-eligibility guidelines. Now, a family of four can earn up to $44,100 and qualify for the program, compared with $33,075 before.

Elderly and disabled persons and families with small children will have priority.

Both homeowners and renters can apply, and upgrades can include insulation, air sealing, windows, heating, water heaters, air conditioning and electrical appliances.

But Johnson said energy auditors, not homeowners, will decide what needs to be done, and the work will be listed online and publicly bid. Contractors will be paid after a final inspection by a different auditor.

"It is not a repair program, it is very specific," Johnson said, and homeowners can't claim tax credits on the improvements.

DOE estimates every dollar spent on home weatherization saves $1.83 in energy costs, and a $5,000 weatherization grant can save a homeowner $350 a year on energy bills.

The department also estimates every $1 million spent on the weatherization program helps to create 52 direct jobs — such as contractors performing the actual labor and office workers processing the paperwork — and 23 indirect jobs — such as clerks at the home improvement stores or workers that manufacture the raw materials for the job.

The federal stimulus package includes $6.2 billion for weatherization efforts across the country.


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