Janesville63.3°

Homeowners worry about paying for heat this winter

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
October 7, 2008
— Winter is around the corner, but Sabrina and Frank Taormino Jr. still are paying for last year's heat bills.

It cost the family of seven $6,000 to heat their 1,700-square-foot, two-story, turn-of-the 20th century Cape Cod home last year.


With the arrival of fall and the encroaching cold weather, the couple dread turning on their furnace.


They're not alone. Many Americans worry about how they are going to pay for heat this winter with the struggling economy and rising cost of gasoline and food.


Heat prices increase costs


"Last year with our fuel oil bills, we had to pick and choose what we were or weren't going to pay," Sabrina said.


The forecast from the Energy Information Administration again indicates the biggest increases will be in the cost of heating oil, according to Wisconsin Power and Light's monthly Natural Gas Update released Sept. 15.


Residential heating oil prices during the upcoming heating season are projected to increase about 25 percent over last heating season. Residential natural gas prices for the upcoming heating season are projected to increase about 17 percent.


In addition to increases in fuel prices, the forecast predicts bills will be driven even higher by more fuel use, according to the Alliant Energy company's latest update.


Costs for the average household using heating oil are expected to increase about 30 percent over last heating season. Costs for the average household heating with natural gas are expected to increase about 20 percent compared to last year, the update stated.


Need increases aid requests


Help is available for high energy users, as the Taorminos were considered.


"Some of our clients' utilities cost $3,000 to $4,000 a year. Some of the lowest-income people get put into shoddy housing. Their bills are high 'cause they don't have the means to fix that stuff. We have clients who had not eaten just to pay for high-energy costs," said Pam Fields.


Fields is weatherization intake coordinator for Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties' housing and energy programs, which offers one of the two county programs providing energy aid. The two are:


-- Energy assistance for heating and electric costs and energy crisis situations.


-- Weatherization services—insulation, sealing air leaks, providing heating-system updates and energy-savings products—free for income-eligible homeowners and renters and at a 15 percent cost to landlords.


Every county in the state offers energy assistance and weatherization through the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Energy, Fields said.


Community Action already has 130 households on a waiting list for weatherization help, and Fields thinks that number is going to increase dramatically.


"For the past several years, people didn't know (about us). But now anybody who is a high energy user we're going to be contacting them," she said.


A new marketing effort will seek out those households, Fields said.


Last year, the local Community Action used $2.38 million to provide weatherization help to 508 households, instead of the projected 401 households, by reducing the average cost of $6,000 per household.


The number of households to be served this year, with about the same amount of dollars as last year, isn't known, but the cost per household is expected to go up, Fields said.


Weatherization decreases usage, costs


Weatherization helped the Taorminos cut air leakage into their home by almost half.


Before, Frank said, "our furnace never shut off. We had to turn the thermostat to 82 to keep our house at 73 degrees."


The Taorminos' energy-inefficient home underwent more than $6,000 worth of weatherization improvements thanks to the local energy assistance and weatherization programs.


That included converting their furnace from fuel oil to natural gas; installing insulation in walls, around the water heater, under the porch and in the attic, and using new energy-efficient light bulbs.


The improvements will make the home more comfortable and improve air quality, said Mike Tearman, inventory specialist and field coordinator at Community Action.


And that's important, Frank said, because one of the children has asthma.


But the benefits also will reduce their energy costs, Tearman said.


"Twenty-five percent of their energy costs can be reduced in this situation," he said.


"Financially, it will help a lot," Frank said.


FOR HELP

First call Rock County Energy Assistance, (608) 363-9200, or Walworth County Energy Assistance, (262) 741-3337, to apply then Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties will call you.


Other helpful phone numbers: Rock and Walworth County Weatherization, (608) 755-2465 or 1-800-301-3951.


Need more energy assistance help?


-- Have an emergency and can't afford your heating or utility payments? Ask your local energy assistance office about the Keep Wisconsin Warm Fund, call 1-800-891-9276 or visit www.kwwf.org. KWWF has limited funds available to help people who are at or above Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program income eligibility levels.


-- Targeted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR is designed to help Wisconsin residents with limited income increase the energy efficiency, comfort and safety of their home. If you have a higher than average utility bill, lower than average income and receive your electricity from a participating utility, you may be eligible. For more information, call 1-800-762-7077.


TIPS

Tips to increase comfort and save energy during the heating season:


-- Remove window air conditioners and close all storm and primary windows.


-- Close window shades and drapes to minimize heat loss. Open shades and drapes during the day.


-- Set back your thermostat a few degrees when going to bed or leaving the house.


-- Sit in chairs away from windows, doors and outside walls.


-- Position furniture, appliances and rugs so they do not block your furnace supply and return ducts.


-- Change your furnace filter monthly.


-- Wash clothes in cold water using cold water detergent.


-- Clean your dryer's lint trap after each load and you could save as much as $34 a year. A clogged lint trap will increase drying time and risk of fire.


-- Turn off lights when not in the room and replace incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs.


-- Plug the TV and other electronics into a power strip. Turn the power strip off when electronics are not in use.


Source: Home Energy Plus—The energy assistance bureau within the Wisconsin Division of Energy that provides services to Wisconsin qualified residential households with energy assistance and weatherization needs. For more information, call 1-866-432-8947.

You also can find energy efficiency and safety tips on Alliant Energy's Web site at www.alliantenergy.com and at www.powerhousetv.com to check out these PowerHouse brochures:


-- 101 Easy Ways to Save Energy


-- Appliance Operating Costs


-- Choosing & Using Appliances


-- Cooling Your Home


-- Electrical Safety


-- Energy-Efficient Landscaping


-- Green Power


-- Holiday Decorating Safety


-- Insulating Your Home


-- Lighting Your Home


-- Natural Gas Safety


-- New Home Construction


-- Power Quality and Surge Protection


-- Weathering the Storm


-- Weatherizing your Home


For more information on cash rebates and energy efficiency programs call 1-800-723-7635.


BY THE NUMBERS

149


The number of clients denied weatherization help this year, primarily because their landlords don't want to participate because they don't have the extra money to put into their properties.


376


The number of clients during the 2007-08 heating season turned away for various reasons.


295


The number of clients denied assistance in 2006.


292


The number of clients denied assistance in 2005.


228


The number of clients denied assistance in 2004.


Source: Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties' housing and energy programs

Energy assistance


3,500


The number of application Energy Assistance takes each year.


"They've hired two additional staff to cover volume. They're expecting a huge increase (in the number of clients) because of the cost of utilities," said Pam Fields, weatherization intake coordinator for Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties' housing and energy programs.



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