Weatherization forecast

New program warms up low-income Sacramentans’ houses, saves energy, dollars

Do this, save money.

Do this, save money.

Like many of us, Everett Hooker tried to ignore the chilly air seeping through his drafty front door.

The retired auto mechanic has owned his north Sacramento home since 1970. But, at 79 years old, Hooker lives on Social Security and a small pension; he needed help making his house more energy efficient.

Luckily, a new pilot program in Sacramento is helping low-income homeowners make those repairs. After Hooker signed up earlier this year, local volunteers from Sacramento Habitat for Humanity spent two hours at his house caulking windows, installing new weather stripping, replacing old light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and fixing that balky front door.

“It’s made quite a big difference,” Hooker told SN&R. “You could already tell, like when I turn the heater on, you don’t have to have it on so long. This makes everything so much better.”

And here’s the best part: Hooker didn’t spend a dime on those upgrades.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and a handful of local organizations created the free program to help struggling homeowners save a few bucks on their energy bills and reduce air pollution. Local chapters from Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together provide the manpower with volunteers, while the Sacramento Association of Realtors Charitable Foundation bankrolled the work with $10,000 in start-up cash.

So far, 34 homes have received weatherization upgrades since the pilot program began in May. Organizers selected former clients from the two construction-minded charities to kick off the service, which should be open to the public within the next few months. The service could one day help thousands of Sacramento’s low-income homeowners.

“We have a huge database of people that we’ve personally served in other ways and that I know would want weatherization,” said Katy Zane, resource and program manager at Rebuilding Together.

Just a few simple tweaks around the house can pay off. Christina Ragsdale, a spokesperson from SMAQMD, said inexpensive upgrades can lower energy bills from 10 to 20 percent.

If it doesn’t sound like much, ponder this: Every dollar counts for seniors and disabled residents scraping by on fixed incomes or families struggling to pay the mortgage.

“That can make the difference potentially between staying in their home or not,” said Ragsdale. “I think these days, that’s a real benefit.”

The environment also gets some love. According to program coordinators, simple energy upgrades such as sealing windows and doors can reduce Sacramento’s annual carbon emissions from 1 to 3 tons per home. And using less energy means utility companies don’t have to splurge on new power plants.

“Low-tech energy-efficiency strategies are the cheapest form of new energy,” said Tim Taylor, a division manager with SMAQMD.

It’s also hardly new. Many utility companies already dangle rebates and energy credits in front of customers who make green-friendly upgrades to their homes. But those repairs aren’t cheap. Homeowners can replace entire heating and cooling systems through SMUD’s Home Performance Program, but the service usually costs a few thousand dollars.

“If you’re in a vulnerable population and utility prices are going up and your home is leaking like a sieve, energywise, what are your alternatives?” said Ken Cross, CEO of Sacramento Habitat for Humanity.

Ragsdale said the free weatherization concept only costs $100 to $300 in supplies and administrative costs but won’t compete with anything offered by SMUD or other local utility companies.

“We’re really talking about hopefully a very large-scale effort for people who are homeowners but have really no resources or are not Internet connected and really could not take advantage of those programs,” she said.