Teams of construction trades have been quietly at work in Chaffee County, weatherizing homes against the cold and cutting resident’s utility bills. The “weatherization teams” are a component part of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. Ark Valley Voice sat down to talk with a NWCOG weatherization team on Jan. 16, to understand how they operate, what they get done, and how the help needed in Chaffee County compares to other counties.
The budget for the weatherization efforts, which help primarily low-income homeowners and renters, is funded by Colorado utility companies through the Colorado Energy Office, which also administers this funding. This year the state’s fund to help insulate homes, replace energy-wasting appliances, and fix drafty windows is around $1 million. The NWCOG covers 16 northern and central Colorado counties, including Chaffee County.
“Weatherization assistance” focuses on improving home energy-efficiency. The most common projects are replacing or upping home insulation, air sealing, fixing leaking windows and replacing low-fuel efficiency furnaces, measuring the efficiency of appliances like refrigerators and freezers. The NWCOG energy funding covers the cost of the repairs for low-income residents, fixed-income-retirees, or those in need. Renters and home owners do need to apply for the program. But weatherization is not the only service the teams provide. Even before the work is done, homes are given a safety check.
“Before our teams do weatherization, we look for safety issues, combustion appliances,” said Team Member Neal Ashforth. “We look for leaking gas lines, carbon monoxide issues. Frankly we see a lot of those things, especially with mobile homes. We often see dangerous do-it-yourself fixes that weren’t done by a licensed contractor. So safety issues are addressed first, then we do the weatherization items.”
Ashforth said that the teams are typically in Chaffee County for three or four days at a time, and some homes require a couple of visits to complete. Half way through their fiscal year they have completed repairs on 17 Chaffee County homes.
The advantage that the NWCOG has, not shared by the Central Colorado Council of Governments (whose coverage area overlaps with NWCOG in Chaffee County), is that the construction and repair crews are NWCOG employees. They function as self-contained work crews; there is no waiting for a contractor, which is causing long wait times for home services in Chaffee County.
The weatherization teams focus on residential structures, both owned and rented. What is different about these crews and other construction groups, other than that they work for one of Colorado’s councils of governments (known as COGs), is their scope.
“Most won’t work on mobile homes and we do,” said team member Neal Ashforth. “They don’t want to touch them, but we know how to improve the livability of those homes.”
The weatherization teams work in teams of two, scheduled after a home energy audit establishes the needs. “We do what’s called a blower door, that’s a frame we place in the door, to determine where the air is coming in,” said Weisman. “It’s a big fan, that pulls air through the areas that we’re looking at for energy leaks. Typically those are windows, doors, water heater closets, and generally low levels of home insulation.”
“Sometimes we’ve had funding years with lots of applicants,” said the team’s Energy Auditor Justin Wiseman. “Normally the turn-around isn’t short term – there is a wait time – but in Chaffee County right now we have no wait list. We used to do seven or eight homes a year here, but in this fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) we’ve already done 17 homes here. That means that next year the funding allocation for Chaffee County will go up.”
While most of the homes and rental units the teams weatherize are low income or fixed-income situations, occasionally the teams work on larger, middle class homes here.
“You know sometimes people have health issues and can’t work, or have a bad year, maybe they lost their jobs and are struggling,” said Team Member Tim Summers. “So sometimes we work on a some nice homes, but the home might not reveal the situation. It’s not our place to question. What we do is give them an improved structure that is weatherized to cut their energy bills.”
Wiseman says the NWCOG teams are looking forward to doing more work in Chaffee County. “Our funding is based on how many homes we do. We get funding at the beginning of the budget year and this year we did 106 homes in our region of Colorado. Because we’ve been doing more homes here in Chaffee County, our funding for this county will be increased.”
For more information, or to assess whether you are qualified to apply, readers can go to www.nwcog.org or call 800-332-3669.