Programs, weatherizing ease natural gas costs

Friday, November 4, 2005

With cold weather quickly approaching, many low-income families and the elderly will make the decision between heating their homes or eating a meal.

"That happens every single day," said Shanna Ashton, East Missouri Action Agency community information specialist. "These people don't realize what programs are available that can help them out."

Several programs are providing low-income households and the elderly funding to help offset the costs of this winter's 30 percent to 40 percent higher utility bills.

EMAA will receive more than $350,000 in weatherization grants to make homes more energy efficient. Priority is given to low-income households with elderly, handicapped and families with small children.

The weatherization grants have been provided for the last 30 years from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Mike Cleary, spokeman for AmerenUE, said a number of things can be done to keep homes weatherized this winter.

"On nice sunny days, open your blinds or drapes to let free solar heat in," he said. "Make sure you close them at night to keep that heat in. That can really make a difference."

One degree saves a lot

Installing storm windows and caulking are the best ways to reduce the infiltration of cold air, he said. Adding insulation to attics and walls can also be a significant energy saver.

"Setting the thermostat a little lower in your home can help reduce costs," Cleary said. "For each degree it is lowered, you can save 2 to 3 percent."

Larry Archer, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Energy Center, said weatherization can save natural gas users up to 30 percent on their home heating costs.

Even after a house has been weatherized, heating bills are still a struggle for some low income families and the elderly to pay.

EMAA provides programs two programs to help with winter heating costs, Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) and Energy Crisis Intervention (ECIP).

"Those are the two main statewide programs that low-income families can use," Ashton said. LIHEAP is for those who qualify to get a one-time payment on their heating bill. ECIP is for those who receive a shut-off notice or are in a crisis over their heating bills; the amount is flexible.

Ashton said the state and federally funded programs end on March 31 or when the funding runs out.

So far, EMAA has seen double the amount of applications for the LIHEAP and ECIP assistance from last year. EMAA encourages those seeking assistance in paying for heating bills or weatherization funding, to apply for the services at its outreach office at 1111 Linden St. in Cape Girardeau.

"There are a lot of people who don't think they qualify for these programs. I would suggest they go ahead and fill out the application anyway," Ashton said.

The Salvation Army also offers low-income families assistance on their utility bills, said Maj. Michael Thomas.

"If someone gets the heat shut off, we do have some funds available," he said. "We get a tremendous amount of calls, and I would say for every request we get, we are only able to help one out of every four families."

Energy experts offer these suggestions for home weatherization:

* Have your furnace checked for safety and efficiency before the start of heating season.

* Installation of storm windows and caulking are the best ways to reduce infiltration of cold air.

* Weather strip doors using metal, vinyl, rubber or foam to keep cold air from entering the home.

* Set the thermostat a little lower.

* On sunny days, open the blinds or drapes to let in solar heat.

* Add insulation to attics and walls

* Close off areas of your home that are infrequently used.


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