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Nelsonville at the National Level: The spread of weatherization

UpGrade Athens County (UAC), the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) and L’Heureux Properties banded together on Nov. 17 to present a national webinar on Weatherize Nelsonville, a program at the forefront of the county’s latest efforts to reduce energy consumption.

Hosted by the National Association for State Community Service Programs (NASCSP), the presentation was one installment of the association’s “Weatherization: Fast Forward to the Future” webinar series, which was hosted from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20.

The webinar featured UAC Information and Outreach Director Mathew Roberts, COAD Housing Programs Manager Tom Calhoun and Utility Programs Manager Nicole Peoples, HAPCAP Housing Coordinator Jeremy Boggs and Bill L’Heureux, office manager of L’Heureux Properties in Nelsonville. Its purpose was to detail the steps taken under the program to weatherize a home, as well as show the affordability and benefits of weatherization for both individuals and the community as a whole.

COAD first began working on Weatherize Nelsonville in January, but the corporation has been weatherizing homes and businesses throughout the region since 1975. One of its most prominent projects is Weatherize Murray City, which occurred in 2009 and involved the weatherization of 190 homes.

Roberts said of COAD, “They were the frontrunners on that Murray City project. [It was] an in-need program, [since the town] was really ineffective at saving energy.”

It was after this success that UAC contacted COAD to contribute its energy efficient services in hopes of winning the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP), which awards $5 million to the region that significantly decreases its energy consumption through innovation and a community-driven approach.

This gave COAD the perfect opportunity to expand the scope of its weatherization efforts. The new goal, Calhoun said, was to “weatherize the whole town at one time, one swoop, instead of just going to this house, and this house, and over there, and then leaving,” which was the course of action during Weatherize Murray City.

By receiving the cooperation of utility companies American Electric Power and Columbia Gas of Ohio and contracting from non-profit HAPCAP, the corporation had the backing to start the program in earnest.

Weatherization techniques under the program include the insulation of attics and walls and the installation of energy efficient lighting, refrigeration and furnaces.

“In Nelsonville, we’re planning on doing 300 homes.” Calhoun said. “It’s conceivable that we’ll replace 150 furnaces there. Not only does that save energy, but it sometimes makes the people’s homes safer.”

Employees also perform air sealing, which closes up cracks where air may leak out and outside moisture may enter. Blower door tests are used to depressurize houses and make leaks easier to find.

On average, homes successfully weatherized under the program receive a 35 percent reduction on their energy use. This results in lower electric bills and smaller carbon footprints.

So far energy efficiency has been increased in 150 of the 300 projected homes that will be weatherized under the program. The process was facilitated by HAPCAP, who did the majority of installation work, as well as other partners of the project that provided incentives to attract community members to reducing their energy use. One example is Columbia Gas, who offers added benefits to its Nelsonville customers with natural gas heating.

With or without incentives, community involvement is one of the biggest goals that the involved organizations hope to achieve through Weatherize Nelsonville. Representatives have been meeting with Nelsonville landlords since March and have partnered with seven major property owners. Forming these relationships increases accessibility to rental homes for weatherization, which is important since nearly half of the inhabitants of Nelsonville are renters.

The goal may be the weatherization of 300 homes by the end of 2016, but COAD doesn’t want to stop there. “I’m starting to sense that after all these months we’re starting to make a difference in Nelsonville,” Calhoun said, “not only from the work we’re doing but [from] getting the community involved.”

From Murray City to Nelsonville, COAD is hitting more and more areas, and the reach of weatherization is widening. But to keep this trend up, the people who live in those communities are the priority.

Keragen may only be a freshman, but she’s an old lady at heart. She can often be found knitting, swaddled in a blanket and watching the Game Show Network. Other hobbies include hiking and zinging one-liners, and her life goal is to be the next Leslie Knope (except multilingual). She is a freshman Journalism major hoping to earn a concentration in Environmental Studies and a minor in Japanese…

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