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Stimulus-Funded Energy Audits Create Jobs
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As part of the federal stimulus package states like Connecticut, have received funding to make homes more energy efficient.  Besides reducing energy consumption the program is also creating jobs. The latest numbers for the state are just out. So far about 53 jobs have been created under the Home Energy Solutions program.  The stimulus dollars are cutting the costs of these energy audits for oil and propane-heated homes.  WNPR’S Nancy Cohen reports on what to expect when auditors seal up the leaks.

Maureen and Rich Whelan and their two children spend a lot of time in a room at the back of their colonial home in Milford. They call it the sunroom, but it’s not always warm. As Maureen pointed out on a raw day in February.

“You can feel a cold wind blowing in.  I feel it right when I put my hand here in front of  the light switches and also right around the door area where the handle is.”

Like many houses in the northeast this three-bedroom has lots of tiny places where cold air sneaks in. Stephen Pelton of R. Pelton Builders in Berlin says they can add up

“A crack the size of a dime around the perimeter  of a window is like someone threw a brick through your window. So It lets that much air coming through.”

Pelton is leading a crew of three of his employees on a hunt for the air leaks. Once they find them they’ll seal up as many as they can. These energy audits are arranged by the electric utilities and paid for by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund. That fund gets its money from electric ratepayers, who pay into it, on average, about $27 a year. 

Pelton starts the audit by installing a giant fan in the front door. The fan helps him analyze the size of the air leaks

“It’s creating the effect of a 30 mile per hour wind against the house. So we’re trying  to figure out if it’s a really windy day where are all the holes coming in?” 

The air is flowing out at 3300 cubic feet per minute. That’s like having a hole in the house the size of an open window.

Now that they’ve measured the hole the workers peel out around the house to find leaks. They start on the top floors where the heated air rises and escapes

“The door is a little warped.”

Ron Legere peers up at a hatch door that leads to the attic. It isn’t closing flush with the ceiling

“It’s hard to seal it. I got one corner that’s giving me a little bit of a problem.”

With the big fan on Legere can not only feel the cold air flowing out of the attic, he can hear it whistling.

“Attic doors are usually the worse,” Legere said. “Sometimes they’re perfect. Sometimes they’re like this.”
 
Just above Legere, inside the attic, Jared Friend is crawling belly down on the floor under the eaves.

“See, some of the job isn’t so pretty!”

Friend is spraying an expandable foam insulation around the holes where pipes and hoses enter the attic.

“I’m basically sealing off  the outside air in the attic here from coming down into the house.“

This is far more than an audit. The crew also caulks around kitchen sinks and windows. And they even put foam insulation under light switches and outlet plates on exterior walls. The program also pays for 25 energy-efficient light bulbs.

Thanks to stimulus funds these audits now cost all homeowners only $75. Stephen Pelton said stimulus funds are also making a big difference to his company, compared to last year.

“The economy got slow last year,” Pelton said. “Probably one of the worse years that we had. We had to lay people off.”

But since December his company has hired and retained 13 workers. Other companies are also hiring. Pelton credits stimulus dollars that fund weatherization for low-income households for driving the growth. But he says energy audits, like this one, provide a steady stream of work.  About 12,000 audits were done last year. The utilities hope to do 20,000 this year.

“Hey Brian!  How much of that ¾ inch pipe-wrap did you put on? “

Pelton’s crew is wrapping up the job. They’ve reduced the size of the leaks in the house by about 30 %. Before they go Pelton makes a sales pitch to the homeowners for installing insulation.

“The attic is the key part. So I would put your money there. If you brought a company in, like ours, the whole thing would be $944. You’d get a check from United Illuminating within 45 days or so  after you process it, for half that amount.”
 
The Whelans didn’t bite. Even so, Maureen Whelan said she was surprised by the amount of work that was done for only $75.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so thorough.”

Whelan said now the house is less drafty.

“I didn’t expect them to converge upon the house with weather stripping and foamy things and caulking!”

Besides tightening up air leaks, the Energy Efficiency Fund and stimulus dollars offer rebates on things like insulation and energy efficient appliances.

Pelton says whether homeowners take advantage of the rebates or not, the audit itself is well worth the cost.

“The return on investment is immediate and instant on any sort of energy audit. It’s something everyone should do while it’s available, until the funding dries up,” he said. “And then you’re going to wish you did it. “
 
The stimulus dollars that helped pay for this audit are expected to last through the middle of next year.  After that oil and propane heated homes could go back to paying four times as much for the same services.

For WNPR, I'm Nancy Cohen.