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Weatherize Murray City!

by on June 3, 2013

Murray City, Ohio The Village of Murray City, a tiny rural town of less than 500 people in the Hocking Hills region of southeast Ohio, was recently revitalized with weatherization retrofits thanks to AEP Ohio’s community assistance program, along with the support of several other national agencies and organizations.

Weatherize Murray City! is an innovative project that embraced a holistic and collaborative approach to community development using energy efficiency retrofits to drive economic growth in the town, considered to be a transitional community with a concentration of poverty.

Nicole Peoples, special projects coordinator for the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), designed and managed the project.

“This whole-community approach has not been successfully implemented anywhere else in the nation,” said Peoples. “Due to its size and geographic boundaries, Murray City seemed to be an excellent test bed for a pilot project.”

Most homes in the area, now more than 100 years old, are single-story stick-built structures with no insulation, failing HVAC systems, outdated and inefficient appliances, poor ventilation and other problems. The homes were too hot in the summer or drafty, damp and cold in the winter.

Normally households are weatherized on a first-come, first-served basis as applications are received by the local community action agency. By changing service delivery to a block-by-block, town-by-town model, Weatherize Murray City! streamlined weatherization services, saving dollars and decreasing the environmental impact of uncoordinated service delivery.

The Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action Program (HAPCAP) was responsible for the application intake process. COAD organized community meetings to introduce the program to the residents and also helped them apply for weatherization benefits.

Many residents were skeptical at first and questioned whether any program would really provide them with free home retrofit work and free appliances.

COAD staff went door-to-door to reach out and persuade residents to participate in the program and distributed flyers, brochures and door hangers to publicize the project. Gradually, thanks to word-of-mouth and persuasive customer service representatives, 74 percent of occupied households were provided weatherization services.

Each household that met program income guidelines received a home audit. (Total gross household income must be at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.)

The results of the audit assigned a dollar amount for the recommended work. In most cases, residents received attic floor and wall insulation, CFL bulbs, new energy-efficient refrigerators, hot water tanks and furnaces.

Funding, services, materials and appliances for Weatherize Murray City! were made possible by a public-private collaboration partnership which included AEP Ohio, Columbia Gas of Ohio, Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action Agency, the Village of Murray City, Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy, Fluke, Applied Energy Products, Advanced Fiber Technology, Conservation Services Group, Lowe’s of Athens,  and the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development.

Janet Rehberg, consumer programs coordinator for AEP Ohio, manages the company’s community assistance program.

“The residents of Murray City were so grateful for the weatherization services,” Rehberg said. “Many expressed how thankful they were that the village was chosen for the project, making their homes not only more comfortable and energy efficient, but also safer.”

The project identified many health and safety problems in the homes — problems that would otherwise have gone undetected. Experts testing the safety of systems and appliances in the homes identified and corrected problems before they became dangerous such as cracked heat exchangers, gas leaks, high levels of carbon monoxide, electrical and fire hazards as well as mold and moisture problems.

Based on improvements made to the average home and current energy prices, residents can expect to save up to $400 a year for the life of the retrofit. The money spent on utility bills can now be reinvested in the local economy, revitalizing the small community.

(Portions of this article were written by Nicole Peoples for Home Energy Magazine)

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