Although we’ve experienced quite a mild winter so far in most of the country, the low heating bills for 30,500 families in Wisconsin have more to do with the energy efficiency measures they received from the Recovery Act- funded Weatherization Assistance Program. Through simple upgrades like adding insulation, sealing ducts and installing more efficient windows, heaters and cooling systems, these families will reduce their save an average of $400 a year on utility bills, according the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wisconsinites are not alone in their new-found energy-savings. As part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Weatherization Assistance Program received $5 billion to weatherize nearly 600,000 homes for low-income families, and surpassed its goal three months early. The program is delivering lower utility bills, and helping to create thousands of jobs for local carpenters, electricians and others implementing the changes, supporters say.

Weatherization Installing Insulation
image via Shutterstock

“With so many Wisconsin families still struggling in this economy, it’s reassuring to know that weatherization funds are working, creating jobs, lowering energy bills, and conserving fuel in our state,” Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) said in the DOE statement. “I’m delighted that so many families will benefit long-term thanks to this energy-saving program.”

While there is growing attention to energy efficiency, especially as technologies improve, the idea of energy conservation through weatherization is not a new one. The Weatherization Assistance Program started back in 1976 as part of the Energy Conservation and Production Act’s response to staggering energy prices after the 1973 oil crisis. To help save oil and cut energy bills for low-income households and people living on fixed incomes, the program worked to provide energy efficiency improvements on their homes, weatherizing over 6.4 million homes since inception.

While the program started out with simple measures like caulking and weather-stripping, it has evolved into a wide variety of services to analyze the whole home and make changes in the building envelope, heating and cooling systems, electrical systems and electricity consuming appliances. Those who qualify for assistance (mostly a matter of income) enjoy the service free of charge, receiving an average of $6,500 worth of upgrades.

Although this program is limited to low-income families, it shows that simple changes to a home have the power to make a big impact on energy consumption. As we keep parroting, buildings account for 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions in the U.S., so making them more efficient can make a large dent in our overall footprint. Simply replacing old incandescent light bulbs, sealing drafty windows and doors, and turning your thermostat down when away or asleep can make meaningful changes that will also give immediate rewards in your next energy bill.

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