- Associated Press - Monday, January 2, 2017

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Santa Claus came early for Alice Barham when her house received an energy makeover in November.

Barham is one of dozens of homeowners to receive energy-efficiency improvements to their homes through the Extreme Energy Makeover program offered through Columbus Light and Water.

The city of Columbus and CLW partnered with the energy firm CLEAResult after receiving a $1.6 million Extreme Energy Makeover grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Through the grant, the program seeks to reduce electricity usage by addressing air leaks, poor weather sealing, insulation, heating and cooling, duct seals and other issues.

The program targets 25 percent energy savings in homes that are at least 20 years old and is aimed at homes in lower-income communities. The rental home Barham lived in before moving into her current home was built sometime in the 1960s and was hard to heat at times. Her current home was built in the 1980s.

Barham’s home and the rental home behind it - both located off Dowdle Street - received energy efficiency-focused renovations, including sealant around vents, windows and where the walls meet the ceiling, improved insulation, a new water heater and other improvements at no cost to her.

“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up, and this is going to be a dream,” Barham said. “It’s not for real that we’ve gotten all this and no bill.”

But it is for real.

Columbus Light and Water General Manager Todd Gale said work on homes began in April. So far, he said the program has finished about half of its 125-home goal.

CLW is also holding energy-efficiency seminars in conjunction with the program. So far, they’ve been neighborhood focused, but he said the department plans to host a citywide-focused session in the spring.

He said all work on the project is scheduled to be finished by September 2017, and applications are still available at CLW.

Gale said it took some time for things to get started because homeowners were skeptical about the program. But now it has grown a short waiting list as word of mouth of its success has spread throughout town.

“They’re doing about eight to 10 homes a month,” he said. “It was hard to get going at first because people didn’t believe you were going to go in and do the work at no cost to them.”

Barham first learned about the program watching television and said even she was skeptical about it at first. But her brother encouraged her to sign up, and after seeing the results, she said she has started encouraging her neighbors to apply.

“I understand,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to believe there’s not going to be a bill to follow.”

But the only bill that follows is, hopefully, a cheaper electricity bill.

It hasn’t been long enough since improvements were finished for Barham to get a bill to see how much money and energy she saved in a month’s time, but she said she’s more than happy with the program no matter what the savings end up being.

Barham said she was impressed that CLEAResult used local contractors to work on her homes. She said they worked faster than she expected and scheduled the work when it was convenient for her.

She also pointed out that her improvements hadn’t originally included the new water heater in her home, but it was added when an inspector discovered her old one was rusting and needed replacing.

“I think they’re just doing a great job of staying on top of it, making sure that everything is working,” she said.


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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