Beyond road repairs, infrastructure bill boosts home weatherization

Mike Moen
Devils Lake Daily Journal

FARGO, N.D. -- This month, Congress could give final approval to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. With cold weather on the horizon, there could be extra money to help qualifying North Dakotans protect their homes from winter chills.

Since the mid-1970s, the Weatherization Assistance Program has helped low-income homeowners and renters make their homes stronger and more energy-efficient. Its usual annual budget is about $300 million, and the infrastructure plan would tack on $3.5 billion.

Over the past year, Community Action Partnership of North Dakota says 611 weatherization jobs were carried out across the state, along with more than 1,200 emergency furnace repairs.

Andrea Olson, executive director of the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, said its weatherization staff often works with seniors who want to stay in their own homes, but need assistance to make them livable.

"It needs some additional work to keep that home safe for them," Olson explained. "We also want to help them, you know, save money from heating costs."

Upgrades often include furnace repairs and installing insulation. Currently, there's a waiting list of nearly 300 in North Dakota for weatherization services, and Olson noted the additional funding would allow them to expand their reach. The current version infrastructure bill has bipartisan support, after Republicans argued the original plan was too large.

Brandon Kjelden, energy and rehab coordinator for the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency, said certified crews do a lot of important work to ensure a home is energy efficient and safe.

"For example, we verify how much air is leaking in and out of the house, prior to weatherization and after," Kjelden recounted.

Fuel-burning appliances also are tested to ensure they're not emitting harmful emissions. Agency officials say it protects the health of residents, and helps them avoid future medical costs.

And Olson added investing in home weatherization is also an economic boost to local communities.

"The majority of these dollars is locally spent," Olson observed. "We work with contractors that are local."

The Senate already passed the spending bill, and a final House vote is expected by the end of this month.