By Jason Alderman
If you’re plagued by winter drafts and high heating bills but can’t afford to weatherproof your home, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) just might be able to help.
Since 1976, WAP has helped protect more than 6 million low-income households from summer’s heat and winter’s cold, significantly lowering both individual utility bills and overall national energy usage. And thanks to a dramatic $5 billion infusion from last year’s American Recovery and Investment Act, WAP is on target to weatherize – for free – an additional 1 million households a year.
Here’s how WAP works:
Each year, Congress appropriates funding to the DOE to administer the program. DOE then provides WAP funding and technical guidance to individual states, U.S. territories and Indian tribes, which in turn fund local agencies to install energy conservation materials and make repairs in qualified low-income homes.
The 2009 Recovery Act increased the average household expenditure limit from $2,500 to $6,500. It also expanded WAP eligibility to include anyone whose income is at or below 200 percent of the poverty level for their household size. Each state sets its own program rules, however, so many have more generous eligibility criteria.
WAP provides energy-efficiency services that are tailored to each home, whether a single- or multi-family dwelling or mobile home. Homeowners and renters can apply, although renters must obtain written permission from their landlords.
As many as 30 million families are eligible for WAP. Those receiving Supplemental Security Income or Aid to Families with Dependent Children are automatically eligible. In other cases, preference is usually given to people over age 60, families with one or more disabled members and families with children.
To see if you are eligible for WAP, visit www.eere.energy.gov/weatherization, which contains application instructions, contact information for individual state programs and local weatherization service providers, frequently asked questions, and a step-by-step description of how the process works.
As part of the application process you will be asked to provide proof of income and other qualifying information. If accepted, you will receive a professional energy consultation by the agency. They will conduct a home energy audit during which they will likely:
• Analyze your utility bills
• Test infiltration of outside air into your home
• Inspect your home and equipment for safety
• Determine the most cost-effective energy conservation measures for your home.
Depending on what they find, the agency will then conduct needed repairs and equipment installation, which might include: installing wall, floor and attic insulation; sealing and repairing ducts; reducing air infiltration and pressure imbalances; and tuning, repairing or replacing heating and cooling systems, as needed. You also will receive tips on ways to further reduce your utility bills on an ongoing basis.
Even if you aren’t eligible for WAP, you may qualify for short-term utility bill assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administered by individual states. To learn more, visit www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap.
Don’t let personal income challenges stand in the way of weatherproofing your home or paying your heating bill this winter.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.
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