Habitat for Humanity's north central office has been building homes to federal Zero Energy Ready Homes guidelines. Open kitchen, dining room, living room areas need just one mini-split from a heat pump to heat and cool the whole area. Jan Ellen Spiegel

Income-eligible Connecticut residents who have been rejected from insulating their home due to mold or asbestos may have a second chance at accessing those services.

People looking to cut their energy costs may look to install insulation or air seal their home to make it more energy efficient. But if the home has mold or other hazards, contractors sometimes can’t work. And cleaning that up can be costly.

Now, the state is directing $12.3 million to help through the Residential Energy Preparation Services (REPS) program. The money comes from the federally funded State Energy Program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the American Rescue Plan Act.

Leticia Colon de Mejias, director of the energy nonprofit Efficiency for All, has been advocating for this kind of action for years. She said that while this money is a start, there are more residents who need assistance than this money can provide.

She said energy efficiency upgrades are an important way to lessen stress on the grid during severe weather. Because of that, she said, it’s important as many people as possible can access the services.

“Those are the areas that we need to focus our resilience planning on ensuring that when it’s coldest, or hottest, or darkest, that people have their energy needs met,” Colon de Mejias said. “And the only way to do that is to draw down demand at the residential level where those demands are occurring.”

Becca Trietch, with the state Office of Affordable Housing Energy Retrofits and senior policy advisor for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said the money will upgrade 600 homes by the end of 2025.

“We recognize that even with the funding we currently have for this program, we’re not even able to meet that need,” Trietch said.

Giulia Bambara, staff lead for the REPS program and also with the Office of Affordable Housing Energy Retrofits, said they’re hoping to eventually expand the help to more residents. That includes seeking more federal funding and other sources.

“We are actively looking at other grant opportunities and other programs, even within the state, to see if there’s other ways that we can bring in funding and expand this program and make the money go farther,” Bambara said.

Households that have been deferred by a state weatherization program and earn lower than 60% of Connecticut’s median income are eligible. According to Energize Connecticut, the income eligibility cutoff for a household with two people would be $52,000 or lower this year.

Colon de Mejias said the funding fills a need, but it leaves behind other people living in older homes who are ineligible and can’t afford the remediation work.

“Whether they’re low income or working families, removing asbestos could be up to $30,000. Even if you’re working … that’s a lot of money,” Colon de Mejias said. “So we need to do more.”

According to DEEP, 14 units have been serviced in 2023 so far through a pilot phase. In 2023, 100 total homes are expected to be cleaned up in Connecticut.

This story was first published May 18, 2023 by Connecticut Public.