County Gets $4.1 Million Weatherization Grant

Stimulus funds to aid 600 low-income homes in Washtenaw

Washtenaw County’s weatherization program, which typically serves about 100 homes annually out of a $350,000 budget, is getting $4.1 million over the next 18 months from the 2009 federal stimulus package. That amount will allow the program to weatherize 600 homes – and lower utility bills – for low- to moderate-income families during that period.

To ramp up for this influx of federal funding, the program will be hiring staff for the duration of the grant, which runs from April 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2010. Aaron Kraft, program coordinator, said there are two full-time employees now (including him), plus a private contractor who does inspections. Kraft expects they’ll need seven full-time staff in the office to handle outreach and applications, four more inspectors and double the number of general contractors that they use to work on these projects.

In addition to the increased number of houses they’ll be able to serve, the amount that can be spent per house has roughly doubled, Kraft said. Not including administrative costs, about $4,500 will be available for each home. The program covers houses, mobile homes, townhomes and condominiums, but not usually apartments in large complexes, Kraft said.

Those funds pay for an energy audit/home inspection, which reveals ways in which a home’s energy efficiency can be improved. That includes a “blower door” test to depressurize the house – basically, taking a powerful fan and sucking out the air to exaggerate the effects of air leakage through cracks around doors and windows. They’ll also do a meter reading on the refrigerator – if it’s an energy hog, the program might pay to replace it with a more efficient model.

For many homes, Kraft said, installing insulation in the attic, walls and foundation “gets the most bang for your buck.” They replace all light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, but they don’t often replace windows – that’s often beyond the program’s budget, and it’s not where you’ll see the most energy savings, he said, calling that a myth generated by Wallside Windows.

The inspection also looks at general health and safety issues, like whether there are adequate smoke detectors. They’ll also check to make sure there’s no carbon monoxide emissions from a faulty furnace or hot water heater.

Federal guidelines, based on poverty levels, have changed for income eligibility, Kraft said, so more people qualify for the weatherization program. You automatically qualify for assistance if you’re receiving Michigan bridge cards (formerly known as food stamps), or if you receive supplemental security income (SSI). Priority is given to the disabled, elderly and families below 125% of the federal poverty level, Kraft said.

Beyond that, you qualify if you fall at or below these annual income levels:

  • 1-person household: $21,660
  • 2-person household: $29,140
  • 3-person household: $36,620
  • 4-person household: $44,100
  • 5-person household: $51,580
  • 6-person household: $59,060
  • 7-person household: $66,540
  • 8-person household: $74,020
  • (For each additional person, add $7,480)

Income is calculated going back the previous 90 days, so if someone was making more than these levels but has been laid off recently, they might qualify.

The grant is part of a much larger amount expected for Washtenaw County from federal stimulus bills passed in 2008 and earlier this year. Other federal funding, such as $3 million for the purchase and rehab of foreclosed property, was discussed at the March 4 Board of Commissioners meeting, where some county staff members mentioned the weatherization funds and pointed The Chronicle to Kraft.

Much of the federal funding hasn’t been allocated with specific dollar amounts, so in that way the weatherization program is ahead of the game. The funds flow from the U.S. Department of Energy, and are administered locally via the county’s Employment Training and Community Services (ETCS) department out of its Harriet Street office in Ypsilanti.

Handling such a dramatic increase will be challenging, Kraft said. In the past, they’ve relied on word of mouth and local nonprofits or community organizations to make referrals. Or people might be made aware of the program when they call the county’s 2-1-1 information line. They’ll probably change their approach to outreach, he said, in order to get more people enrolled.

So what if the program doesn’t spend all the funds?

“Oh … not an option,” Kraft said.

If you think you qualify or would like more information, call the weatherization program 734.544.2948.


  1. March 11, 2009 at 8:07 am | permalink

    I think this is one of the most exciting programs authorized in the stimulus. Energy efficiency is a straightforward way to reduce a family’s ongoing cost-of-living in a systemic way. With so many facing home foreclosure because of comparatively small shortfalls (sometimes as little as $50 a month), reducing their energy costs has plainly relevant economic benefits. This program is going to support thousands of hours of employment over the next 18 months and could have a significant cumulative impact on our local global warming footprint. I can’t wait to see it up and running!

  2. By Dan Ezekiel
    March 11, 2009 at 6:19 pm | permalink

    I agree with you, Conan, this is a fabulous feature of the stimulus and a good opportunity to help low-income county residents save energy and money.
    Before we were teachers, my wife and I were energy auditors (in the early 1980′s) for a company that contracted to do energy analyses for Detroit Edison customers. The audits were subsidized by the federal gov’t, and the energy (and carbon) saved was strikingly high, I believe.
    One thing I remember was the higher energy use by low-income customers, because they couldn’t afford to invest in energy-saving technology or goods, also because they frequently rented and had no motivation to invest in these. Nor did the landlords, since they didn’t pay the utility bills. Will rental units be eligible for this program?
    I hope a thorough energy analysis will be done on each home, with a presentation to the residents. Most people have little idea what the actual energy savings of different actions or technologies are. E.g., unless windows are absolutely falling apart, better windows will save relatively little energy, compared to their cost. On the other hand, using a setback thermostat will pay for itself in less than a year, in most cases.
    When people are given accurate information about the energy savings of various behaviors, they are likely to save significantly more energy.

  3. March 12, 2009 at 8:22 am | permalink

    I’m thrilled at the fast implementation of this excellent program!

  4. March 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm | permalink

    This is an excellent program that is now getting teh attention it deserves, a great use of Federal dollars. Coupled with other programs, such as those now supporting Habitat for Humanity, allowing them to take on a great deal more work in rehabilitations, we can improve the overall housing stock and provide direct benefits for those most in need of them.

    Our firm, Carlisle/Wortman Associates has developed a community-wide municipal energy assessment program that will allow the governing bodies of cities, counties, townships, and villages to better compete for the now-funded EECGB funding and direct those resources where they can be of the most benefit. They will be able to identify the best internal energy/cost saving measures that can save taxpayer dollars and fund projects that will provide incetives for market rate housing and commercial developers to incorporate energy-saving measures in their projects.

    The net benefit of all these programs will really bear long term benefits to Michigan and the Country as a whole. It is inspiring to see energy at the forefront of a domestic reinvestment strategy.

  5. By Norbert Zink Jr
    March 12, 2009 at 4:37 pm | permalink

    Hello I would like to introduce myself, I have owned Scio Electric Service since 1981 in the Ann Arbor area. I would be very interested in becoming involved as a contractor for the electrical work that may be involved. I am fully licensed thru the State of Michigan as a Master Electrician #62-05188. Also I am fully insured with Workman Comp and Liabilty Ins.

    Thank You
    Norbert Zink Jr.

  6. By Mary Morgan
    March 12, 2009 at 4:50 pm | permalink

    Norbert, I’ve forwarded your contact information to Aaron Kraft, the program coordinator for this project and the person I interviewed for this article. Hopefully he’ll let you know what you need to do to participate.


  7. March 17, 2009 at 8:57 am | permalink

    I would like to invite anyone in the Washtenaw county area to consider joining a new group being formed called the Washtenaw County Area “Green Team”. We are primarily focused on (1) energy conservation, (2) environmental & ecosystem preservation, (3) alternative/renewable energy development, and (4) development of “green collar” business infrastructure, jobs and opportunities in our area.

    You can join our group here

    (You will need to sign up for a free account on MyBO if you don’t already have one in order to join the team.)

    Although we are organizing under the umbrella of “Organizing for America”, our efforts are non-partisan by their very nature. One of the things we are currently working on is identifying our Stimulus Package money is being spent on “green” initiatives in our community in order to monitor them and promote them locally. This particular project fits in with that perfectly.

    Our group is new but we have big plans for the future. One of our key projects will be a blog that covers issues, events and projects in our area that are relevant to our mission statement. We also hope to help be a bridge between various local groups involved in these areas. We can help promote them as well as provide volunteers to worthy efforts.

    Please consider joining us!

    Chris Savage
    (734) 358-9276