National Weatherization Day: Local Impact in Blair County
Oct. 30 marks National Weatherization Day, a day focusing local, state and national attention on the Weatherization Assistance Program and the work being performed by dedicated community assistance providers.
Over the last 45 years, DCED has weatherized more than 543,500 homes and resolved over 144,300 heating crisis emergencies. We spoke to a long-time partner of DCED, Sergio Carmona, Executive Director of the Blair County Community Action Agency (BCCAA), to learn about weatherization programs deployed at the local level.
How does BCCAA improve the quality of life for its residents?
Since it was established in 1965, the agency has served as an advocate for the economically disadvantaged residents of Blair County, and acts as a conduit for federal, state and local resources.
Currently, we offer a Weatherization and Energy Services program, in partnership with DCED and its Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), as well as our two energy utilities, Peoples Natural Gas Company and Penelec, a FirstEnergy subsidiary.
In addition to weatherization services, we offer homeless assistance programs; money management, debt-repair services and education courses; transportation for employment and interviews; and many other services.
What is the Weatherization and Energy Services program, and how does it impact the lives of those it has touched?
Through BCCAA’s partnership with DCED and contracts with Peoples Natural Gas and Penelec, we’re able to install weatherization measures to eligible homes in Blair County. Customers are either referred by their utility company after being identified as a high energy user, or by the Blair County Assistance Office through the CAO Contact (pa.gov). Customers can also contact our agency to request services if they qualify.
The goal of the program is to help low-income households lower their electric, fuel oil, and/or natural gas consumption, therefore making monthly payments more affordable. To do this, we weatherize homes – actually lowering the customer’s energy usage – and offer energy education to help reduce both a consumer’s cost and energy consumption long term.
How does the program work, and who is eligible?
To qualify for the Weatherization Assistance Program, household incomes must fall under 200 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines. Those with a higher energy burden (percentage of household income spent on energy bills) are prioritized, but energy burden alone doesn’t qualify a customer for assistance — other factors such as age, energy use and disability are all considered during the prioritization process.
The first step in the weatherization process begins with an initial energy audit at the customer’s home. Our team does a complete audit to determine where there is energy loss, or cold and heat penetration. Once the energy audit is completed, we produce a work-order/plan to remedy the situation. A work-order will typically include measures to insulate, seal and repair various problem areas and cracks. We also change to energy-efficient lightbulbs, low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators – all to reduce energy use and save money.
Once the work is complete, we do another audit and inspection to make sure everything is complete and meets DCED and Department of Energy specifications. Lastly, a final quality control inspection is conducted by a state-certified Quality Control Inspector to verify that the entire job was completed correctly.
The weatherization assistance program works year-round, as energy loss occurs during both cold and warmer months. During the winter months, we assist a large number of low-income households with compromised furnaces or other heating sources.
What is the long-term impact of the Weatherization and Energy Services program in Blair County?
In 2020, BCCAA helped to repair or replace heating systems in more than 200 homes in Blair County through DCED’s LIHEAP Crisis program. Between November and March or April, we’re usually doing emergency LIHEAP Crisis work along with our regular weatherization work – and on top of that, we help weatherize roughly 50 additional homes through our partnership with DCED and the utility companies.
Our energy-education efforts are a vital part of the weatherization process, and they provide free, long-term assistance to consumers. Our staff delivers full education on how people can save money and reduce energy moving forward.
For example, we help customers understand the importance of keeping their thermostat at 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night; we install and educate consumers on what energy-saving lightbulbs are and can do for their energy bills; and we install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. We have an extensive list of energy saving tips and measures we review with each household to help them understand how simple steps they can take each day can save them money.
I encourage you to learn more about our agency and our Weatherization and Energy Services program at the Blair County Community Action Agency website.
To learn more about DCED’s Weatherization Assistance Program, visit the DCED website or to see if you qualify for assistance, connect with one of our weatherization partner agencies serving your county. Follow DCED on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more exciting announcements, and become a Keystone Ally and help us spread positive PA news.
Sergio Carmona, Executive Director of the Blair County Community Assistance Program, has 28 years of experience in affordable housing development, program development, program administration and grants management, spanning from San Diego, Ca., to Pennsylvania. Carmona also sits on the board of the Eastern PA Continuum of Care, and the Greater Altoona Economic Development Corporation, which provides guidance and financial assistance to businesses investing in the redevelopment of downtown Altoona.