When water is plentiful in the Picacho Reservoir in Pinal County, a suburbanizing rural area in Arizona between Phoenix and Tucson, you can throw a stone in the water and watch the ripples make their way in concentric circles across the aquatic surface. This is not unlike the effect seen by residents in the county that is a result of work being done there to make the community more energy-efficient.
The Community Action Human Resources Agency of Pinal County has been doing weatherization work since the mid-1980s. Reducing energy costs for families is a natural part of CAHRA’s mission of fighting poverty in Pinal County. The agency is administering $2.1 million in Recovery Act funding to weatherize the homes of low-income people in the county.
Mary Lou Rosales, director of CAHRA, says the money has allowed her organization to add multi-family projects to the single-family weatherization it was already doing. The organization has already completed the weatherization of two domestic violence shelters owned by Against Abuse Incorporated of Casa Grande, Ariz.
Like many nonprofits, AAI doesn’t have much money to spare. But CAHRA recently helped AAI trim its utility bills by weatherizing its women's and children's shelters and adding solar water heaters. Despite this year’s much cooler weather, the women’s shelter still shows a savings of close to 10 kWh, which represents almost $155 in savings each month, according to Lucy Rangel, housing Programs Manager for CAHRA.
Mary Lou says weatherization has improved dramatically since CAHRA began the work more than 20 years ago.
“Before, we ... just made sure the home was really tight,” she says. “It has morphed more into building science.”
Tightening the envelope is still a priority, but CAHRA’s work is aimed at finding other ways to promote energy efficiency as well. The agency’s in-house weatherization staff starts by doing a full diagnostic on the home to see where heating and air-conditioning is escaping. In addition to fixing those leaks and cracks, the agency also considers installing more energy-efficient appliances and fixtures. Typically, CAHRA’s work can save the home’s occupants 20 to 25 percent of their existing utility bills.
For the expansion into multi-family housing weatherization, CAHRA will hire contractors rather than using its own technicians. However, the funding has already contributed to local job creation. Not only has it created work for third-party contractors, but also CAHRA itself has been able to hire five weatherization employees.
“We have been able to keep contractors afloat and create positions with them and also their contractors, so it’s a ripple effect,” Lucy says. “We are continuing a stream of funding into our communities.”