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S.L. WEATHERIZATION PILOT PROJECT HELPS PEOPLE REDUCE THEIR UTILITY BILLS

Workers wander in and out of Betty James' house, measuring, replacing windows, weatherstripping. A couple of them wrestle with a "blower door" - a hooded door with a fan that hooks into it and blows air through the house. The door is essential to find leaks. Mike Johnson, state weatherization manager, squeezes a "smoke pencil" (titanium tetrachloride) into the air around windows, watching for the smoke that indicates a leak.

James' home is the 66th - and final - home in a weatherization pilot project sponsored by Salt Lake Community Action Program, Utah Power, the Utah Department of Energy and the Department of Human Services. Started last November, it helps people who live at or below the poverty line reduce utility bills in their electrically heated homes by insulating, weatherstripping, sealing holes and cracks, and using compact fluorescent lights.Utah Power contributed $75,000 to the $120,000 project and the departments made up the balance. Work was provided by the Community Action Program. Besides the physical changes made, CAP staff teach clients how to keep costs down without suffering.

"We want to make the house energy-efficient, but not so tight that it causes health and safety problems," Johnson said.

After evaluation, Utah Power plans to make the program available to all low-income households that heat with electricity in Utah. The power company has budgeted about $900,000 a year for the program.

A similar program has operated since 1976, and staffers estimate people can lower their energy bills by 15 percent, according to Dave Eskelsen, Utah Power. This is Utah Power's first experience with the program.

Staffers evaluate the house and decide what to do, said Dale Canning, Community Action Program. "We don't buy any item that doesn't pay back within its lifetime. We try for payback within eight years."

In the past 15 years, 6,000 homes have been made more efficient just in Salt Lake City and Tooele. The program operates statewide and almost 29,000 have been done. Average wait to participate statewide is six or seven months.