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Area residents can get energy assistance

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With the rising costs of fuel and energy, the Clayton County Community Services Authority (CSA) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) are urging people in the Southern Crescent to take advantage of ways to keep themselves warm during the winter season.

The CSA, which serves Henry, Fayette, and Clayton counties, has recently seen a dramatic rise in federal appropriations for its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). According to Rev. Charles Grant, CSA executive director, this year, the organization has nearly $3 million available to assist Southern Crescent residents in paying their heating bills.

"Fuel costs have jumped tremendously, so persons have had to make a choice of whether they have heat in the home, or if they are going to eat," he said. "Congress got it passed and got the allotment raised [for the LIHEAP]."

Grant said, this year, residents who fall within federal poverty guidelines are able to receive a one-time, $350 grant of assistance to pay down their energy bills. The amount of the grant is $100 greater than what the CSA was able to provide last year, he said.

In addition, the CSA has nearly $258,000 of available funds for its Weatherization Program. Through the program, needy residents in Henry, Fayette, or Clayton can apply for a one-time grant to install insulation, weather stripping, water heaters, and in extreme cases, replace aging heating systems which pose a safety hazard to the resident.

"[The funds] can be used to weatherize the home to save energy," said Grant. "It makes it comfortable for elderly and disabled residents to stay in their homes."

Grant said the amount given to each qualified applicant of the Weatherization Program depends on how much the repairs are, but that the repairs cannot exceed $3,000. Those applying for the funds, must also fall within federal poverty guidelines, he said.

Fred Elsberry, president and CEO of the BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens, and Northeast Georgia, said nationally, heating costs this winter are expected to rise 23 percent for homes relying on heating oil, 18 percent for homes relying on natural gas, and 10 to 11 percent for homes heated by propane or electricity. He said homeowners can fend off some of the rising costs by taking personal steps to winterize their homes.

"As if people needed some more bad news about high prices, high heating costs are the next hurdle for cash-strapped consumers, and yet another reason for homeowners to take steps to winterize their homes before the cold sets in," said Elsberry. "Winterizing a home makes good economic sense because a small, upfront investment can pay dividends for months by increasing the energy efficiency of a house and reducing overall heating costs."

The BBB suggests the following ways to save money this winter:

· Replace old furnaces: Furnaces older than 15 years may be due for a replacement. For younger furnaces, make sure the filter is clean, the thermostat is working properly, and the pilot light is functioning.

· Clean heating ducts: Ducts should be cleaned once every two years. Homeowners should also consider adding insulation to any exposed ductwork.

· Inspect your chimney: Before lighting up, people should check for any animals, debris, and leaves which may have fallen in. It is recommended to install a screen over the chimney opening.

· Clean gutters and ridge vents: Gutters should be cleaned to prevent any clogs which would cause rainwater to back up and freeze, making the gutters expand and crack.

· Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors: Replace smoke alarms older than 10 years and put fresh batteries into existing alarms and detectors.

· Caulking and weather stripping: To prevent leaks, homeowners should inspect the caulking around windows and doors for cracking and peeling.

For more money-saving advice, visit the Better Business Bureau online at www.bbb.org. For more information about the CSA's weatherization and LIHEAP programs, contact the CSA at (404) 363-0575.