More than 1,600 homes weatherized last year, thanks to federal grant

FELTON - The rustic cabin where Sandy Lockwood and her two daughters live is typical of others built in 1937: There's no insulation. The PG&E bill in the winter is a jaw-dropper: $800 a month. Relief arrived Wednesday when a crew of four showed up to install floor insulation at no charge. "You feel like you won the lotto," said Lockwood, who also will get new windows and doors to prevent heat loss. Lockwood, 49, a caretaker for horses, recently underwent spinal surgery. She sought assistance from Valley Churches United Missions and found she met the income guidelines to qualify for free weatherization from Central Coast Energy Services, a nonprofit in Watsonville. "This is the busiest time of year," said Liz Moreno, spokeswoman for Central Coast Energy Services, which helps low-income households pay their energy bills. In 2010, the nonprofit processed 17,000 applications for its Home Energy Assistance Program compared to 11,000 in 2009. Thanks to an infusion of $4 million in federal stimulus funds to the nonprofit two years ago, more people are getting their dwellings weatherized to reduce their energy outlay. Crews weatherized 1,644 homes in 2010 compared to 946 in 2009. Another 419 weatherization projects approved last year are slated to be completed this year. The services include a free home inspection, installation of energy conservation and heat-loss measures, inspection of gas appliances and potentially replacement of the refrigerator. "People will get weatherized," Moreno said. "It's a matter of time." Grant funds must be spent by March 2012. Renters are eligible as well as homeowners, as long as they meet income limits to qualify. The gross income for a family of five, for example, cannot exceed $55,464. "Very few people are rejected for income," Moreno said, noting the guidelines are posted on the nonprofit's website. Lockwood's landlord, Bill Holl, did not qualify. He said he had insulated the bedrooms but that heat was lost through the roof and because of the single-wall construction. He had hoped to participate in PG&E's weatherization program but it has income restrictions and targets occupants rather than landlords. Lockwood said she applied to Central Coast Energy Services eight months ago. After her surgery, she called to find out if her insulation could be moved up in the work queue. "She was persistent," her landlord said. Santa Cruz painting contractor Ron Myers encourages customers to weatherize but hasn't seen much demand. "Money is, unfortunately, the key to getting more people involved with these measures," he said. "There really is no 'wow' factor in a new heater or caulk. The 'wow' comes from the shiny new granite countertops or new carpets." HOW TO APPLY Central Coast Energy Services offers a Home Energy Assistance Program and free weatherization services to renters and landlords who meet income guidelines. The guidelines are posted at under 'our services.' To request an application, call the 24-hour hot line at 888-728-3637. Jondi Gumz Mercury