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Prepare Your Home for Winter to Save on Energy Bills

The weather across Wyoming has been warm into the start of fall, Brenda Ilg says, but everyone knows a cold spell is coming.

That’s why Ilg and her colleague, Ellen Sevall, both program analysts at the Wyoming Department of Family Services, are urging those who might need help with heating bills this winter to fill out applications for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program.

See Also: Winter Heating Costs and Older and Low-Income Households

That program is one of several resources available for Wyoming residents who need help heating their homes or just a few ideas on how to button up their houses against the cold weather this winter. Others come from non-profits and some come from the utilities themselves.

Alan Stoinski, an energy services specialist at Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power, says that every year about this time, his company gets requests from church and community groups to give presentations on how monthly heating bills can be lowered. “There are a lot of low-cost and no-cost things people can do,” he says. Among them are keeping curtains and shades open during the day so the sun can heat the house, and closing them at sundown to keep the warm air in and the cold air out. (See sidebar.)

For those who can do a little more, many home-improvement retail outlets offer blankets to wrap water heaters, energy efficient windows and insulation to block hot or cold air from entering homes.

A lower-cost option with increased benefits is also available. ReStore, operated by Habitat for Humanity in Cheyenne at West 18th Street and Ames Avenue, offers home improvement materials generally at a lower cost to the public and the proceeds from sales benefit Habitat for Humanity, which builds affordable housing.

“We’re like the Goodwill version of Lowe’s or Home Depot,” Habitat for Humanity Director of Development Josh Nicholas says, naming two of ReStore’s community partners. Half of the store’s stock comes from community partners such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, and half comes from donations from contractors who have materials left over or those who are remodeling homes and are replacing still serviceable items with newer versions.

LIEAP (pronounced lee-ap), administered through the Wyoming Department of Family Services and funded with both state and federal money, pays winter heating bills for Wyoming residents who qualify and provides access to weatherization help.

Ilg says the Department of Family Services general plans to help between 16,000 and 18,000 residents each year, but the actual number varies. For the 2010-2011 heating season, more than 15,000 applications were received and benefits were granted to 13,400. “The majority of applicants receive some sort of benefit,” she says.

For those who qualify, payments are made directly to the provider of heating, whether it comes from a regulated utility or propane, heating oil or wood provider. For those who find themselves in a crisis situation – a shutoff during winter months or a furnace that breaks down – help is also available through the LIEAP Crisis Program.

Ilg said enrollment starts in the fall and application deadlines stretch into the spring, but she urges anyone who thinks they qualify to apply as early as possible.

That also applies to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which runs a bit differently. “People can qualify, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily receive benefits in that year,” she says. That’s because weatherization projects are tackled on a priority point system. Those who are 60 and older, or have children younger than 6 or household members with disabling conditions are given priority.

Applications are available at local DFS offices, senior centers and utility companies across the state, along with income guidelines and more detailed information about the programs. Information about income eligibility is available at DFS offices and on the agency’s website or by calling 1-800-246-4221.