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Issues of the Environment: Washtenaw County's weatherization program receives bigger budget and is ready to serve more residents

Washtenaw County Housing Program Supervisor Aaron Kraft
Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County Housing Program Supervisor Aaron Kraft


  • Washtenaw County’s Weatherization Assistance program (Wx) is actively seeking participants at this time. According to benefits.gov According to national studies, households that receive weatherization services can expect heating costs to be reduced 20 to 25 percent. At today's fuel cost, that amounts to about a $300 savings. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/1861)
  • The Weatherization Assistance Program provides free weatherization services to qualified Washtenaw County residents. The program is implemented through Washtenaw County in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is designed to help residents lower their utility bills. We perform a free energy audit and based on the results of that audit, we provide eligible repairs on the home for free. Homeowners and renters that meet the eligibility requirements are welcome to apply.  (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.washtenaw.org/773/Home-Weatherization-Program)
  • Aaron Kraft, Housing Program Supervisor for Washtenaw County, said, here are, “a few exciting notes about the Wx program we’ve been working to share as aggressively as possible with the community…"

    • Last year, our funding for Weatherization work has tripled. As a result, we need more folks than ever to apply to this service. 
    • We can routinely complete over $10,000 in free energy saving improvements on eligible homes in Washtenaw County. (Insulation, air sealing, HVAC upgrades, health and safety work.)
    • All the work is completed free of charge.
    • Most importantly.  Income qualification guidelines doubled last year.  
    • Single person household has to make less than $66k annually to qualify.  A 4-person household has to make less than about $94k to qualify.  So, a huge jump compared to previous income figures. Way more people can qualify under these numbers… so we’re trying to get the word out to a whole new group of folks who might not think they could get the help…”
    • The Weatherization Assistance program (Wx) conducts a home energy audit of many of the systems in a home that are prone to outside air infiltration. Common areas of leakage are the front door, attic or crawl space. The program can add insulation to make these areas more airtight. This may also prevent pipes from freezing. The furnace, water heater, and refrigerator can also be replaced at no cost if they are not energy efficient. 
    • Many of the weatherization inspection items are also connected to safety. For example, an incorrectly installed dryer connection can use extra energy, but they can also start a fire or allow carbon dioxide into the home. If needed, the professional will install smoke and carbon dioxide detectors. 
  • Heidi Johnson, Weatherization Program Supervisor, says that the cost for these home improvements averages about $10,000, and the ongoing savings can substantially lower energy bills. She mentions that drafty windows are a common complaint by homeowners. At this time, the county does not replace windows or cover that cost because the cost for the window is greater than the savings from the replacement, and funds are better used elsewhere. 

Weatherization Services

Free home improvements could include:

  • Air sealing work such as foaming gaps and holes in attics and foundations
  • Fresh air bath fan
  • Insulation of attics, walls, and crawlspaces
  • Replacements or repairs of inefficient furnaces, hot water heaters, and refrigerators

1. What are the income guidelines for the program?

Your household must be at or below 80% AMI of the federal poverty level to qualify for the Weatherization Assistance Program. Income eligibility is established based on the previous 3 months income for the household.

UPDATE: 06/30/23 ~~ Income guidelines for the Weatherization program have been updated recently. The income limit has approximately doubled. Call 734-544-3008 for exact details to see if you might qualify under these new eligibility limits.

  • For a family of 1 the maximum annual income is $66,300
  • For a family of 2 the maximum annual income is $75,750
  • For a family of 3 the maximum annual income is $85,200
  • For a family of 4 the maximum annual income is $94,650
  • For a family of 5 the maximum annual income is $102,250
  • For a family of 6 the maximum annual income is $109,800
  • For a family of 7 the maximum annual income is $119,250
  • For a family of 8 the maximum annual income is $128,700

Add $9,450 for each additional household member.

2. Who can automatically qualify?

If a member of the household receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Disability Assistance (SDA), cash benefits through the Family Independence Program (FIP) then the applicant is automatically eligible for Weatherization. Receipt of any of these benefits within the previous 3 months makes an applicant eligible. We will need documentation of those benefits, and also documentation of any other income that the applicant may have.

3. What type of work can be done and what cannot be done?

The program is designed to perform energy saving repairs and measures. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Insulation of attics, walls, and crawl spaces
  • Air sealing work such as foaming gaps and holes in attics and foundations
  • Replacements or repairs of inefficient furnaces, hot water heaters, and refrigerators
  • Fresh air bath fan

We do not do any plumbing or electrical work. We do not install wheelchair ramps, fix gutters, repair steps, replace windows or address other issues unrelated to energy savings.

4. If I am approved, how long will it take before work on my home will begin?

The application process may take up to three months. We have many new applicants, and a detailed application review process has to be completed before you can be approved or denied. After approval, it can take up to 6 months or more before the project begins.

5. Will you replace my windows?

The Weatherization program does not replace windows. As an energy saving measure, new windows generally do not provide good energy savings.

6. Can you replace my roof?

In some cases, we are able to do roof repairs if it allows us to perform other energy saving repairs such as adding attic insulation. It is however very rare and contingent on the availability of funds for the program to do a roof replacement. The need for roof work can only be determined during the inspection, so it is beneficial to apply to the program if you would like to have your roof evaluated.

7. Can you replace my furnace or hot water heater?

In some cases, but only after the inspection takes place. If the applicant is without heat or hot water, we will make our best effort to inspect the home quickly but will still need a completed application (PDF) with all required documentation before we can proceed.

8. Can renters qualify?

Yes, we can weatherize rental units (single family up to a 4 Plex), but we have to have the approval of the landlord. Note that for duplexes to 4-Plex properties all residents must apply to the program at the same time, though not all residents of the property need to be eligible to receive help.

Note: The Department of Energy Regulations restricts the weatherization of 4-story or larger buildings.

9. Can mobile homes qualify?

Yes, but due to a required "savings to investment ratio," our grant requirements may mean that it is more difficult to move forward with improvements on a mobile home. A copy of the mobile home title must be submitted as proof of ownership. Please contact us so we can determine how to best serve your household.

10. Do you replace refrigerators?

We are able to replace a refrigerator. That decision is made based on the initial inspection which will determine the condition and current energy usage of the refrigerator. If we determine that we can replace the refrigerator we will order one and a delivery company will arrange with the client to deliver it to the house and remove the older unit. It is a one for one replacement. We remove the old unit and replace it with a basic white energy star rated model with a freezer on top. We make sure it is a comparable size, but do not install ice makers, side by sides, or any other luxury items.

11. My home was weatherized in the past. Can my home be weatherized again?

Yes, clients are eligible to apply every 15 years.

12. What information do you need to provide when applying?

In order to determine eligibility, the applicant must fill out a complete application. They also need to provide:

  • Income documentation:
    • Level of income must be at or below 80% of area median income
    • Income documentation is required for the previous 3 months from date of application for all household members
    • Even if the client automatically qualifies, we still want to make an effort to document their income.
  • Proof of home ownership:
    • Copy of deed, title or tax bill is sufficient
    • Title only for mobile home
  • Recent utility bill
  • If renting, then the landlord must agree to and sign the landlord agreement (PDF).

13. What is required for income documentation?

More documentation is better when it comes to an applicant. However, we do not need 3 months' worth of documents. We can work with:

  • Pay Stubs which show a gross Year to Date (YTD) from 3 months prior to submitting the application, along with the most recent pay stub (if the applicant was at the same job for the entire 3-month period).
  • Social Security or other benefit letters that show a gross amount per month.
  • Letter from an employer on their letterhead detailing income information.
  • If no income, then a notarized declaration of no income will do.
  • If self-employed, then a notarized declaration of self-income will do. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.washtenaw.org/773/Home-Weatherization-Program)


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and while it's not as bad this week, we've certainly had some extremely cold temperatures of late. If your house or apartment isn't properly weatherized or doesn't have an energy-efficient furnace, you're going to notice a difference in your next heating bill. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's Issues of the Environment. Washtenaw County has a weatherization assistance program that, for qualified residents, can mean a free energy audit, repairs and appliance upgrades. And, as you're about to hear, the budget for the Weatherization Assistance Program was tripled this year. Here to fill us in is Aaron Kraft. Aaron is housing program supervisor for Washtenaw County. And thanks for making time today, Aaron.

Aaron Kraft: Absolutely. David. Thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: How did the budget triple?

Aaron Kraft: Well, the funding for the weatherization program, while it has been stable for decades, received a big influx of funding from several sources. The bipartisan infrastructure law is the biggest one, which will allow us to weatherize an additional 80 or so homes per year. And that funding will last for the next four years. Additionally, the Board of Commissioners of Washtenaw County dedicated funding to the tune of about a half million dollars for about two years to weatherize another 40 or 50 homes additionally. So, on top of our regular funding, we're just experiencing a huge influx and very excited about it.

David Fair: So, let's talk about nuts and bolts for a minute. The first part of the process is to determine if a resident qualifies for the program. What are the parameters of meeting the requirements?

Aaron Kraft: Yeah. The main thing I'd like to focus on when talking about eligibility for the weatherization program is a household income. That can be, oftentimes, the deciding factor. The good news for a lot of folks in Washtenaw County is that the income guidelines for the weatherization program doubled about a year and a half ago. So, really basic eligibility guidelines include....we would count up the income for the household for the past three months. And, roughly speaking, if a household's income for a whole year, more or less, is less than $66,000 for a single person household, they might qualify. If it's, say, a four-person household, the income guideline is $94,000. So, if the income for the household is less than those numbers, they could probably qualify for our services. Other income guidelines or other guidelines for eligibility are less stringent. We can serve homeowners or renters in Washtenaw County, but we, unfortunately, can't do apartment buildings. But, other than that, those are the two main criteria for determining whether someone would be eligible for our services.

David Fair: So, for those who are qualified and get accepted into the program, the first step is a free energy audit. What does that audit entail?

Aaron Kraft: Right. So, we do a very thorough home inspection, or we call it an energy audit, where we try to go from the top to bottom in the home and determine what type of energy efficiency improvements the program would allow us to do on that particular home. I'll generalize what we like to do in our energy audit, and we try not to make any promises when folks are trying to find out about our program. But the energy audit would try to determine places where the insulation in the home is deficient, whether it's in the attic, the walls, or like a basement or foundation space. We'll also look at where the house is leaking air. So, we do something called a blower door test. And that determines how leaky a house is. And, based on our standards, we would seek to tighten up that house, so it doesn't lose heat through air loss. And then, we look at the mechanicals or the HVAC system--furnace, water heater, that sort of thing--to make sure they're operating both safely and efficiently. And then, finally, the program has a really great health and safety component that's built into the weatherization program. We look at carbon monoxide or indoor air quality and make sure the occupants aren't being exposed to dangerous conditions. And then, every home gets upgraded smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms as a standard part of the work.

David Fair: We're talking with Washtenaw County Housing Program Supervisor Aaron Kraft on WEMU's Issues of the Environment. Now, we talk about leaky and inefficient. What about windows? A lot of older casings and single pane glass can contribute to energy inefficiency. Is that included in the program?

Aaron Kraft: Well, I'm glad you asked. Unfortunately, windows are not a part of the weatherization program. It's our number one question and biggest request that we get. A short way to explain why we don't do windows is that they're just very expensive, and they don't save as much energy as you might think. And when compared to replacing or upgrading attic installation, the payback period for replacing a window is very low compared to other things that we would target around the home. So, no. Now, if a window is completely broken out, we would look at that. But 99.9% of the time, we are not doing any windows on any of our weatherization projects. Sorry about that. Bad news.

David Fair: So, if the energy audit comes back, and a good deal of repair and work is needed, is there a cap on what the program will spend to make those improvements?

Aaron Kraft: No. Not necessarily. We try to find as much work at a home as we can legitimately cover through our program. We're seeking ways to help. We're not looking for ways to reduce the amount of work that we do. We have a lot of funding right now. It's not uncommon for us to spend $10,000 or $14,000 weatherizing a home. We do have to meet certain spending criteria, but it's averaged over the homes that we're weatherizing, so we have to meet it. We have to keep an average going, but it doesn't usually result in limitations placed on any one particular home.

David Fair: One of the big elements of both Washtenaw County, the City of Ann Arbor and State of Michigan's carbon neutrality goals is to create greater energy efficiencies. Do you have an idea of the average monthly or annual savings after these improvements are done to a home in Washtenaw County?

Aaron Kraft: Yeah, we can generally express our energy savings in dollars per year. We would hope to reduce the utility bill for a resident who applies or participates in the weatherization program by maybe $300 or $350 per year. Of course, it depends on if we find a house that has no attic insulation, the walls are uninsulated, the furnace is operating terribly, hopefully, that number would be even higher. But, on average, around $300 per year is what we would like to tell folks.

David Fair: Once again, this is Issues of the Environmental in 89 one WEMU. And we're talking with Aaron Kraft about Washtenaw County's weatherization assistance program. Now, a lesser-known program has to do with roofs. While you can insulate attics and reduce the amount of heat that escapes and the cold that enters, some roofs simply need to be replaced. Now, this is a program that, as I understand it, only operates on a waitlist which recently closed. But, on average, you replace about 25 roofs here in the county?

Aaron Kraft: Yeah, we have a separate funding source to help with roof replacements, and, yeah, unfortunately, last week ,we did close our roof waiting list. But folks can still inquire about that and find out when our next roof waiting list will open--probably, about a year from now, unfortunately. But we encourage anyone experiencing an emergency situation or a real critical need to give us a call. We can't help with everything. We do have a targeted list of things that we try to help with through our funding, but we're always willing to talk and brainstorm about what services we offer.

David Fair: So, to get back to the Weatherization Assistance Program, once the resident submits the application, what is the wait time on learning if we've qualified?

Aaron Kraft: A week or two. Generally speaking, we try to get back to folks pretty quickly. If the application is complete and we don't need any further documentation or don't have any questions, the applicant would receive an approval letter, hopefully, within a week or so. You know, the time frame from there to schedule the energy audit can be a little bit longer--a month or two. We're pushing hard to get as many people into the program as we can. Folks tend to think about weatherization when it's bitterly cold outside or has been recently. So, it can take a little while, but we have funding to do this all year round. We don't ever close our doors. So, if you apply now, hopefully, I would say maybe in the springtime or sometime after the winter, we'd be getting out to your house to make these improvements, hopefully.

David Fair: Well, I want to come back to the budget as we wind our time together down for today. Again, the this year, the budget tripled. And you mentioned that that's going to keep the program funded at this level for the next four years. Do you anticipate that that funding will be available beyond that four-year period? Or do we have to start looking now for sources that will keep the program at current levels?

Aaron Kraft: Well, good question. The program, as I mentioned early, had widespread support in Congress for basically decades. The program was started in the '70s. So, there's a long history of funding dedicated to the weatherization program. So, we've always been operating. I've been working in the program for over 20 years. And I don't know. I mean, I'm happy to be having this increase in funding. We've doubled our number of staff working for us. But, unfortunately, the crystal ball....you know, I guess we're feeling bullish. We're feeling good. It's important work. A lot of folks are focusing on this stuff. And, as you mentioned, all those climate goals that the weatherization programs can certainly be a part of.

David Fair: Well, I thank you for taking time and sharing the information today, Aaron. Much appreciated.

Aaron Kraft: Yeah. And if I could end with sharing a phone number if folks are interested to contact us.

David Fair: Sure.

Aaron Kraft: We have a staff person who takes applications and helps folks learn more about how to get in touch with our services. And that phone number to call is (734) 544-3008. And that's the best way right now to find out about how to qualify.

David Fair: And we will most certainly include that on our website as well. That is Aaron Kraft. He is housing program supervisor for Washtenaw County and our guest on Issues of the Environment. This weekly conversation series is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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