GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

August 16, 2011

Local house project hailed as 'win-win' via stimulus

By Steven Fletcher
Staff Writer

The winter will come easier for Stephanie East.

East, a single mother of two children, lives in an old house down Laurel Street in West Gloucester, and worried that, like last year, the snow would fall and oil prices wouldn't.

Last winter, she recalled Tuesday, she burned through about a tank of oil a month, and had trouble dealing with her heating bills.

This year, East said she's looking to come out a little better — about 33 percent better.

East's home is being hailed as the 10,000th home that's being weatherized with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — Federal stimulus — funding. She went to Action Inc. in Gloucester to find out about the non-profit's fuel assistance programs for struggling families, found herself on the list for weatherization.

"It's something not to have to worry about," she said.

She bought her home last summer, but didn't expect her heating bills to hit the level they did. East said she kept her thermostat around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and still burned through oil. Through Action, and a contractor from Haverhill, East's home will be air-sealed to prevent her furnace from inadvertently heating the great outdoors, and fully insulated. She's also getting ice-dam repair to fix some of the damage caused by last winter's heavy snow.

All of the work's funded by stimulus funding.

The project also helped put contractor John Call, of Haverhill, back in business. At the peak of the recession, Call said his crew shrunk down to one other employee. He said he'd done insulation work in his early years, before he started building houses. Call said he contacted Action, and added that he'd done work with weatherization for them years ago, and started doing it again.

Now, he's hired three new employees, and said he finished East's attic insulation on Monday.

"We're just happy to be going to work every day," he said.

Tuesday morning, East opened her home to a crowd of city and state officials, from Congressman John Tierney, Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzales, Jeffery Simon, Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office Director, to State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, Mayor Carolyn Kirk and several members of the City Council.

"Before the stimulus, the state weatherization program had $6 million," said Simon, speaking before the crowd on East's front lawn. "The stimulus funded it at $125 million,"

Simon added that the stimulus money had brought in a rash of contractors, certified to do weatherization work. He added that the stimulus boost came in threes, fours, and fives, of people heading back to work across the state.

So far, that funding's weatherized 10,000 homes across the state. Simon said they're not stopping at $10,000, either; he said the program is on track to weatherize 20,000 public and private homes before the stimulus funding closes in March of 2012.

State officials said those projects will continue to keep residents warm, and put some of them back to work.

Tierney said that, with the funds, people have gone and will continue to go to work building state infrastructure.

"Just like you make investments maintaining your house, you have to make investments in infrastructure as a country," he said.

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act signed into law in February, 2009. Massachusetts state agencies received $7.4 billion in Recovery Act awards since the start of the program, according to a release from Governor Deval Patrick's office.

East's project, which will cost about $5,000 and take about a month, also steps into Gloucester's Green Community's program.

Kirk said the city's making municipal and new buildings more energy efficient, and this offers a way for homeowners to join as well. Tarr added that the weatherization project helps move the city, state and nation towards a more energy efficient tomorrow, and makes one step toward an energy independent future.

Action Inc., meanwhile, started is weatherization program in 1976. Since the stimulus funding, the local organization has provided weatherization for more than 100 homes in Gloucester alone, officials said.

The company's weatherization and heating programs extend from Cape Ann to Haverhill. All weatherization, provided the homeowner's at low income levels, doesn't cost homeowner's a thing.

"It saves energy, improves the environment, stimulates the economy, provides jobs, and gives her more comfort in the winter," said Action's energy director Rita Carvalho. "It's a win-win all the way around."

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.