Monroe County Opportunity Program (MCOP) has provided weatherization services to southeastern Michigan residents for over 20 years, and funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 recently allowed this private non-profit to hire more staff and increase the scope of its services.
In April 2009, MCOP received $3 million in Recovery Act funds to spend over a three year period.
"We initially used the money to hire three office staffers to process weatherization applications and a full-time inspector to conduct pre- and post-inspections on houses that are approved for weatherization," says Stephanie Kasprzak, MCOP's executive director.
MCOP also hired three full-time contractors to weatherize the homes of income-eligible residents in Monroe County.
"Before the money from the Recovery Act, we only had several part-time contractors working on weatherization projects," says Kasprzak. "Now we can provide a level of service that meets the growing the demand for weatherization in Monroe County."
Prior to the staffing increases, MCOP weatherized 70 units per year.
Since October 2009, when the new contractors began working full-time, MCOP has weatherized 198 homes and is currently working at a rate of 15 to 17 units per week.
And that means an impact upon the supply chain. As part of the services, MCOP has replaced 115 refrigerators and 96 furnaces. The savings to investment ratio for these improvements is one dollar saved for every one dollar invested, according to Kasprzak.
Weatherization starts with a home energy audit conducted by MCOP's full-time inspector. During the audit, the inspector will conduct a blower door test to detect any air leaks, and test the home's water heaters, refrigerator and furnace to ensure they are still cost-effective in terms of energy use.
After the tests are completed, the inspector will recommend a series of changes, such as adding more insulation or replacing a furnace, that are aimed at improving the home's overall efficiency and reducing energy costs.
All changes are carried out by MCOP's contractors at no cost to the residents. After the improvements are completed, MCOP's inspector conducts a post-inspection to measure the increased efficiency and informs residents about best practices for energy conservation. According to Kasprzak, weatherized houses typically reduce their annual energy costs by 30 percent.
Residents of Monroe County can qualify for MCOP's weatherization service if their annual income is equal or less to 60 percent of the state of Michigan's median income. The Recovery Act funds have allowed MCOP to raise the amount of money it can spend per household from $2,965 to $6,500.
Although Monroe County is a small municipality with only 150,000 residents, Kasprzak says that the demand for weatherization is high, and she expects more contractors to look for work in this field.
"I think you'll see more technical specialization in these types of services as weatherization becomes more prevalent," notes Kasprzak.