Randy and Dorothy Pittman are cozy now, but for the first few winters in their new home at the Fond du Lac Reservation this was not the case. At first, the couple, who moved from muggy Alabama, thought they needed time to acclimate to the Minnesota cold. It turned out it was the two-story house they constructed that needed adjusting.
“I had not built a house in the North,” says Dorothy, a tribal member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who takes partial blame for a drafty downstairs. “It’s a whole different climate here.”
Everything changed last fall after a weatherization crew from Arrowhead Economic Opportunity patched up the problem areas Dorothy and her husband missed during construction. The crew insulated walls on the second floor and put plastic sealant underneath the house to protect it from Cloquet, Minn.’s harsh winters when the average temperature is 10 degrees. The days of bundling up just to be warm inside the house were finally over.
“Before, you couldn’t be comfortable unless you had a blanket,” says Dorothy. “But after they left, you could tell the difference almost immediately.”
Dorothy is one of 40 tribal members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who have benefitted from the increased funds under the Recovery Act to the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program.
Typically, the reservation receives enough funding to weatherize three homes a year for eligible low-income families, says Joan Markon, director of community services on the reservation. But a bump in funds from the Recovery Act allowed Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, the tribe’s service partner, to make 20 tribal members’ homes more energy efficient in 2009.
Arrowhead has weatherized 20 tribal homes this year. That’s about five houses a month, a rate that Joan expects the agency to maintain for the rest of year.
The Recovery Act provided Minnesota’s Office of Energy Security $132 million—10 times the state’s regular annual amount—to expand their weatherization efforts through March 2012.
Weatherization crews across the state have been busy replacing old furnaces, sealing air leaks, and weathering stripped doors for people who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, with priority given to households with elderly or disabled people.
Joan says there are about 500 tribal members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who qualify for energy assistance.
“This is a good move for the band members because it saves on resources and helps people who are financially strapped and can’t afford high utility bills,” she says.