Zaundra Goner always suspected it wasn't normal to have a $300 electric bill and an $80 water bill in a one-story, two-bedroom home.
But the Bartlett Park homeowner toughed it out over the years, even as her husband, Randy, went on disability and her own medical bills began to grow. It's not like there was money lying around to make energy saving improvements on her 1949 wood frame house.
In May, she got a letter in the mail. The city and Progress Energy had a program for homeowners, offering $3,000 grants or no-interest loans up to $15,000 for energy efficiency upgrades.
Goner applied, and was approved. Last week, a stream of contractors buzzed around her home gathering estimates for work to replace her air conditioning ducts, living room windows and toilet.
"When this came along, it truly was a blessing," said Goner, 46, a school bus driver. "I've suffered through this enough."
Goner was one of 22 people who were recently approved for the program. She is receiving both a grant and a loan, and will make payments of about $65 a month.
Among the money-sappers an energy audit of Goner's home revealed were 1950s-era jalousie windows in her living room. The glass-on-glass system of horizontal shutters was designed for porches, and doesn't provide a tight seal for air conditioning.
Earlier this year, Goner was one of 75 people who participated in a mini audit by the utilities' Neighborhood Energy Saver Program, which targeted low-income homes. They gave homeowners tips on how to clean refrigerator coils, and inspect their weather stripping or duct work to save on energy costs.
The city, using $150,000 in state dollars as part of its own pilot program, tapped a pool of those participants in Bartlett Park to find candidates for bigger energy efficiency projects.
At this point, there are only a few slots left, available only for households whose income is below 80 percent of the average. The program is not funded for next year.
For below-average income households, no loan repayment is necessary, as long as you stay in the home for the life of the loan. A household of four with an income of $47,350 a year would qualify for the payment-free loan.
"It's a great deal," said Tom de Yampert, manager of the city's housing and community development office. "If you stay in the home, it costs you nothing."
City Council member Karl Nurse, who helped get the project off the ground, recently went door to door in Bartlett Park to make homeowners aware of the grants.
Nurse said an early letter that went out describing the program was overly technical, and some people may have not understood the terms.
Goner, who is struggling to pay for an uncompleted second bathroom and water-logged kitchen ceiling, said she would not have put replacing her jalousie windows and duct work as priorities.
"There is just so much in this house that is overwhelming" she said. "If I can just get one thing done at a time, I'll be all right."
Luis Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (727)892-2271.
For more information
If you own and live in a home in Bartlett Park and you're interested in the program, contact the city housing and community development office at (727) 893-7247 or visit stpete.org/housing.