Energy retrofits benefit more than bottom line

Energy efficiency improvements can do more than reduce monthly bills. They can improve comfort and health, according to a new study.

After Community Action of Allegan County air sealed every window and door and added insulation throughout her Fennville home, Linda Piffer saw her electric bill drop by as much as $200 a month. Her overall comfort and well-being saw a boost as well.

“It’s a great program,” says Piffer, adding that as a senior she’s grateful for the peace of mind she now enjoys during summer’s high heat indexes and humidity. “I’m seeing summer benefits and looking forward to winter ones when I always have heat on.”

Health benefits

A recent preliminary study commissioned by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, and Metropolitan Energy Center found a 33% reduction in the frequency of visits to the doctor for children with asthma who live in homes that received energy efficiency improvement through a program there.

It makes sense, says Terry Emelander, Community Action of Allegan County housing program supervisor. The same improvements that increase energy efficiency often increase indoor air quality, he says.

“They kind of go hand in hand — the energy savings and the health and safety,” Emelander says. “When we tighten the house, we add ventilation. … It means fewer trips to the hospital for the kids, which means they are going to school, they’re going to miss fewer days.”

Blow-in insulation like work done by Community Action of Allegan County as part of its low-income weatherization program, can help save people money and improve health, a new study shows.

At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to help lower income families lessen their utility bills, Emelander says, however health benefits are a great side effect of the program.

The program assists families — whether they rent or own — who are at 200% of the federal poverty level or below (about $55,500 a year for a family of four). For more information or to find out if you qualify, visit

Every house is a little bit different, Emelander says, so the team uses a variety of tools tools to determine the best course of action when it comes to renovating a home for energy efficiency.

High tech

The Allegan County weatherization team uses blower doors, infrared cameras and other scientific equipment to find energy leaks in each home. Those who own their own homes and qualify never pay anything out of pocket. The county program also works with landlords on a contribution (not always monetary) to put energy efficiencies in place. A contract ensures rents are not raised, among other contingencies.

Client education is also a big part of the program, Emelander says, so they can help themselves to save money and energy every day.

“What really saves a client money at the end of the day is to increase the resistance to heat both through insulation and by making the home tighter, so they’re not leaking heat,” Emelander says. “We’re there to save them money on utility bills, so they can use that money on medicine or food or clothes.”
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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.