Reduce utility bill in Sacramento with free energy upgrades

Summer is here. The sun is scorching Sacramento. And energy bills are only going up.

But depending on your income, you could be eligible for a federal program that installs free upgrades to your home to limit wasted energy consumption and reduce your climate impact.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is a federally funded program that aims to help households that pay a large portion of their income on energy needs. Part of the program focuses on home weatherization — replacing weatherstripping on windows, changing out light bulbs, installing low-flow shower heads, insulating walls, among other measures.

In Sacramento, Yuba and Sutter counties, the Community Resource Project Inc. is the main nonprofit locally that implements these home weatherization improvements, supported by LIHEAP and other funding from the state and local utility companies.

The program is at no cost to the homeowner or tenant, said the nonprofit’s energy director Eric Esquivel. The goal is to help residents living in poverty and seniors on a fixed income in particular. A person making less than $29,100, or a family of four making less than $56,100 annually, would qualify for the program.

Prior to the pandemic, the nonprofit was weatherizing between 900 and 1300 homes per year, Esquivel said.

Inspectors from the Community Resource Project Inc. first conduct an energy audit of the home, checking for drafts and gaps, and reviewing existing appliances. Then, the nonprofit will share with the homeowner or tenant what upgrades should and can be made, based on available funding. A homeowner or tenant can’t make specific upgrade requests, Esquivel said, and can back out at any point.

“It’s not just heating and air,” Esquivel said. “Are there windows without weatherstripping? Are there doors with big gaps? Because you’re just throwing energy away.”

The program isn’t just for homeowners of single-family homes. Renters can also apply for the program, though landlords will need to give authorization and certain upgrades like solar panels wouldn’t be possible.

Seniors and households with a child under five are higher priority for improvements, Esquivel said, “but there’s enough (funding) to go around and we pretty much take on everybody if they qualify.”

The burden of expensive energy bills can weigh more heavily on low-income homes. One 2014 study found that low-income households typically spend 16.3% of their total annual income on utility bills, compared to 3.5% for other households.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, homes that implemented weatherization upgrades saved on average $283 or more annually.

To see if you qualify or apply for the program, head to the Community Resource Project Inc. website. Learn more about weatherizing your home and other low-income energy assistance programs on the state’s website.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers equity issues in the Sacramento region. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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