MICHELE NORRIS, host:

If you live in an older house, you're probably losing money out your front door, out your window frames, even your roof. President Obama's new stimulus package sets aside $5 billion to weatherize homes. Some of that money is headed to states, so they can train contractors and help homeowners cover the costs. The idea is to save energy, hire people and, maybe, even slow down global warming. NPR's Christopher Joyce recently visited North Baltimore to see just how that money is going to be spent.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: A neighborhood in North Baltimore, homes built in the 1920s, a neighborhood where people have enough money to buy a home but not a lot more.

Mr. MIKE SHIFFLETT (Home Energy Loss Professionals): How you doing? My name's Mike.

Unidentified Woman: Hi.

JOYCE: Mike Shifflett works for Home Energy Loss Professionals. They're energy detectives. Their project today is a rambling three story frame house. It's got a new coat of grey paint and white trim around new windows. It looks good for its 80 some years, but the owner says it's as drafty is a barn.

Ms. PRINCESS MOORMAN(ph): I'm Princess Moorman. I, actually, just settled in a house in October.

JOYCE: That you've just moved in - and you discovered that this house is pretty darned cold.

Ms. MOORMAN: Yeah, my bill is already $500 a month.

Mr. BOB LOGSTON (Home Energy Loss Professionals): She wants to save money and she wants it to be comfortable for her children. So they're going to take two birds with one stone that way.

JOYCE: Bob Logston runs the company. He started doing this 25 years ago - back in the days when home energy lost professional was just a plain old weatherizer.

Mr. LOGSTON: Whenever I tell anybody that I did weatherization they looked at me like I had two heads. But now, if I say we do green energy efficiency work, you know, it's on the tip of peoples tongue.

JOYCE: People like Princess Moorman can weatherize their houses through a state program that pays some other cost for home owners who make up to about $65,000 a year. Moorman says she couldn't afford the upfront cost of doing it all at once.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Bob walks down to the basement. Mike Shifflett has been checking the heating ducts in the basement. They deliver hot air to the upstairs and then return it to be reheated. The basement's cold - about 50 degrees.

Mr. SHIFFLETT: They cut a hole in the floor here, and this is they - return beam upstairs - and you can see this gap.

JOYCE: So that's just basically a big hole going up into the house.

Mr. SHIFFLETT: Yes.

JOYCE: All this cold air is going up in there.

Mr. SHIFFLETT: Yeah.

JOYCE: The gaps around the ducts in the basement ceiling let cold basement air leak upstairs. And there's another problem.

Mr. SHIFFLETT: Basically, this basement is being heated because of the simple fact - all this heat, it's running through these ducts. It's cold down here and cold's stronger than heat.

Unidentified Man #1: All your windows are (unintelligible), right?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

JOYCE: Now it's time to set up a big exhaust fan.

(Soundbite of exhaust fan)

Mr. LOGSTON: We're creating a wind tunnel within the house (unintelligible) vacuum.

JOYCE: Not a total vacuum of course - we'd all die - but enough so the cold outside air will get drawn into the house through any openings it can find. As he walks through the house, Logston holds an infrared scanner to his eye and points it at each wall, window and seam. A bright blue lights up the screen.

LOGSTON: Around her windows.

JOYCE: 41 degrees.

Mr. LOGSTON: Door frames.

JOYCE: 36 degrees.

Mr. LOGSTON: The baseboards.

JOYCE: 45 degrees.

Mr. LOGSTON: Stairway.

JOYCE: 42 degrees.

Mr. LOGSTON: The outlets.

JOYCE: 48 degrees. Lots of cold air getting in, and much of it from the basement. So, Logston is going to seal the basement off from the rest of the house.

(Soundbite of construction)

JOYCE: Down in the basement, Logston's workers paint mastic on heating ducts. It's like wet cement, and it keeps them from losing heat. They also wrap all the pipes with insulation, as well as the water heater.

Mr. SHIFFLETT: All of this is basically like just putting a blanket around it, keeping the heat in, you know. It's just like a human's body. You know, you start getting cold, you want to be wrapped, so…

JOYCE: Maryland will pay up to $5,000 to weatherize homes for qualified families with incomes up to about $65,000 a year. Maryland's energy administration says the average energy savings for the homes they have had retrofitted runs about 20 percent, or about $400 to $500 annually. So, it would take about 10 years for a homeowner to recoup the cost of a retrofit like the one Princess Moorman is getting.

So far, though, state officials say three-quarters of the homeowners in the program have paid for the retrofits themselves. Half say they do it for comfort, one-quarter to save on energy bills and another quarter to help the environment. Malcolm Woolf, who runs the Maryland Energy Administration, says the federal stimulus package will expand this program. And that means putting more people to work.

Mr. MALCOLM WOOLF (Director, Maryland Energy Administration): We are training folks every week, unemployed or underemployed construction workers, can easily be retooled to do air ducts and insulation installers and meet our current needs.

JOYCE: And that makes Bob Logston pretty optimistic.

Mr. LOGSTON: Yeah. I'm bringing my son up. I'm bringing his friends into it. If you noticed I have a younger work force. I call them the next generation of energy efficiency. And I stress the point that there can be a career to them. It's just something that's going to grow. I just know it's going to grow.

JOYCE: Members of congress who designed the stimulus package say it could pay to retrofit a million homes nationwide.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.