Grants help heat homes for Pierce County's low-income residents

Cooler temperatures over the past week provided notice that winter is around the corner. As the thermometer dips below 40 degrees, many people take for granted that their warm home is not only cozy but, most likely, energy efficient and cheaper to heat. For low-income families, higher utilities bills can be financially devastating this time of year. Thanks to money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA), the Community Connections Weatherization Program increased their reach and helped over 800 families in Pierce County ready their homes for the winter chill.

The Weatherization Program works with area contractors and provides a professional approach to improving conditions of owner occupied and rental units. The program assesses each home and offers solutions that can save residents reduce their energy consumption — plus, keep the local environment clean and healthy. It provides such improvements as attic and crawlspace insulation, sealing ducts and plumbing penetrations, more efficient lighting, and energy efficient refrigerators.

People living at the Viking Co-op Apartments in Puyallup were happy to benefit from the program. In fact, the residents were so pleased with the results that they delivered an over-sized thank you card to the Community Connections staff. “I thank you so much,” wrote Margaret B., one of the homeowners. “I can tell the difference in heating already.”

At Viking Co-op, 12 units received mechanical ventilation, energy efficient light fixtures, blower door guided air sealing, attic and crawl insulation and some minor electrical repair. One unit even qualified for a new energy efficient refrigerator. The average cost per unit is $3,560.

“These basic improvements make a big impact. Clients can see a 20-30 percent decrease in their utility bills,” said Gary Aden, manager of the Weatherization Program at Community Connections. “This frees up money that can be used to cover other household expenses. For a senior citizen or disabled person, this may be the difference that helps them afford to stay in their home.”

Pierce County combined stimulus funds provided by the AARA with regular funding from federal, state and local sources including area utilities. That funding provided Weatherization with $3.2 million — more than doubling of the number of residences that it usually serves. In a typical year, the county weatherizes slightly more than 200 units. In 2011, that number jumped to well over 800 units.

To qualify, residents must be at or below 200 percent of the Federal poverty level or 60 percent area median income level. That means a monthly income of $2,126 for a single person; $2,781 for a couple or; $3,435 for a family of three. Weatherization is available for single-family homes and mobile homes. Multi-family and apartment properties are eligible to participate in the weatherization program if 50 percent of the residents are income-eligible, if there are matching funds, or if 66 percent of the residents are only using weatherization dollars from Health and Human Services, Department of Energy or Bonneville Power Administration.

Pierce County residents can contact the Weatherization Program to learn more about eligibility guidelines and apply to get on the wait list by calling (253) 798-6526 or visiting the Community Connections online at and filling out a pre-application questionnaire.