A year ago, Celia Santowski's fixed income was being stretched by rising medical and utility costs while her east Carson City home leaked heat - her window curtains would move any time a gust of wind blew outside.
Today, the 67-year-old former state worker who retired on disability in 1991 is saving a couple of hundred dollars each month thanks to a new furnace, thermostat, energy-efficient light bulbs and 10 recently installed storm windows.
She is one of 74 people in Carson City who used the Nevada Rural Housing Authority's Weatherization Assistance Program last year, which helps low-income people in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties make their homes more energy efficient. More than 200 homes were weatherized in the region last year.
Santowski had everything installed last summer after applying for the program in January 2010. The upgrades cost $7,000, which Santowski didn't have to cover.
"There was no way I could keep up with anything, so there goes the TV and maybe the phone," Santowski said. "But they really saved me there."
She adds, "It has basically cut my bill in half. I can buy food."
On average, most homes saved about $650 a year in energy costs after participating in the program, which is largely funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and federal stimulus dollars. Public utilities such as Southwest Gas and NV Energy also provide funds to replace or repair gas furnaces.
The service is available to people living in single-family or multi-family homes. Households must meet certain income requirements to qualify, such as $44,100 in annual income for a family of four.
Among the upgrades the program provides are:
• Ceiling, floor and duct insulation
• Duct leakage sealing
• Window replacement
• Exterior door replacement
• Water heater and water pipe insulation
• Furnace replacement
• Refrigerator replacement
• Carbon monoxide alarm installation
• Attic insulation
For Santowski, the program helped her and her son Mario Santowski, 42, who has been out of work for three years, save some money each month.
"I don't know what I would have done without it," said Santowski, who is now repairing a leaky roof with the money she saved on her utility bill.
Adds Mario, "It's a bonus."
For more information call 775-283-0099 or visit www.nvrural.org.