Some qualify for federal energy-efficient upgrades

May 12, 2010

HUDSON - Phil Prescott feels like he won the lottery.

He didn't play Powerball, though. Prescott won the economic stimulus lottery.

During several days last week, a crew of workers have poked and prodded his house with all manner of materials and tools to make the structure more energy efficient.

It was expected that by the time they were finished - they were expected to be done May 7 - Prescott's 6 Rega St. home would be ready to keep cool in summer and retain heat in winter - reducing his energy bills at a time when he needs money most.

Last year, not long after losing his job as a carpenter, Prescott applied for low-income housing weatherization, a program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

He had little confidence in his application, figuring other people were more strapped for cash.

But Prescott's house qualified for about $5,000 worth of work. After stressing about paying his oil bill last winter, Prescott can now exhale with relief.

"It's like winning a lottery. Considering everything going on in my life right now, it's huge," Prescott said in his kitchen Thursday morning as workers bustled around him.

He has President Obama and Congress to thank for it. Retrofitting homes to reduce energy usage is one of the more tangible aspects of the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package.

He can also thank Southern New Hampshire Services, one of seven agencies overseeing the distribution of $23 million in economic stimulus money that the state received for energy retrofitting work.

Prescott's home is one of 738 in Hillsborough County that Southern New Hampshire Services will audit for energy efficiency. With $5.4 million of the $23 million, SNHS hires the proper contractors to plug holes, install new insulation, and clean and repair furnaces, among other tasks.

SNHS started overseeing the projects last year and have commenced in earnest this spring, with work slated to wrap up next year.

Ryan Clouthier and Adam Foley - weatherization director and energy auditor, respectively, for SNHS - got their clothes dirty Thursday as they pitched in at Prescott's house.

Foley tacked a canvas blower door, equipped with a fan at the bottom, in place of Prescott's exterior kitchen door for an air test. The fan drew out air so that Clouthier could look for heat loss with a thermal imaging camera.

Clouthier sought black spots on the monitor, an indication that air was escaping the house. "We want it tight, but you have to maintain a proper air quality exchange," he said.

The first test days earlier had shown a 3,670-cubic-foot-per-minute rate. At project's end, the crew wanted it reduced to around 1,660 CFM.

(An air flow test requires that every door and window be shut. For the test Thursday, a bedroom window was open to allow for a tube to carry cellulose for insulation in the attic. Clouthier couldn't get an accurate reading, but he had a rough idea that the 3,670 CFM rate had dropped.)

A homeowner can reduce home heating fuel usage by 20 to 30 percent after a proper retrofitting, Clouthier said.

To help Prescott achieve that savings, all sorts of work was to be done.

The biggest job was installing thicker, cellulose-packed insulation, replacing the old, thin material that had allowed the build up of icicles on Prescott's roof, a sign that heat was escaping in winter.

Stan Waslik of Masco Contractor Services - one of the companies hired for the retrofitting - had the tough task of crawling around Prescott's attic space with the cellulose tube to lessen the escape of air. Open basement sills were also packed with insulation, and pipes that carry hot water were wrapped with rubber.

Masco employee Bryce Clark affixed new weather stripping to the front door. And a metal dryer pipe replaced a plastic flex tube.

SNHS will replace a burner if necessary, but like Prescott's unit, they usually need only maintenance, Clouthier said.

More weatherization money from the stimulus package is coming to New Hampshire, only to Nashua, Berlin and Plymouth.

With this program, businesses and homeowners can apply for a piece of a $10 million pie for large-scale retrofitting. The project will include a loan fund to finance residential retrofits at favorable rates, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's office said.

For Prescott, the low-income retrofitting plan was the best news he has had in nearly two years.

A carpenter for a Vermont company that worked on high-end commercial and residential projects, Prescott learned he had lost his job while working on a new wing at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua. The company had no more lucrative contracts, he said.

His wife, an accountant, has been working two jobs while Prescott has searched for work to no avail.

"I need it," he said of the weatherization work. "Until I get on my feet again, I'll take it."

By:  Albert McKeon
Source: Nashua Telegraph