Low-income residents expected to achieve significant savings on energy and water costs through new program getting underway in Sarasota County

UF/IFAS initiative targeted to families struggling with housing costs

Image courtesy UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability Department of Sarasota County

Low-income residents could cut their energy and water costs by more than $150 per year under a new Sarasota County program launching this summer, county staff has announced.

“The Energy Upgrade program will combine education, consulting, and in-home energy evaluations to help reduce energy and water use for Sarasota County families struggling with housing costs,” a news release explains.

“We are excited to launch this new volunteer program, which will combine grant funding, county expertise, and volunteer passion and commitment to positively impact some of our most vulnerable residents,” said Lee Hayes Byron, director of the county’s University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension and Sustainability Department, which will manage the program. “By reducing ongoing costs for utilities in affordable housing, the program will support financial stability for families, while also reducing energy use and air pollution for the community as a whole,” she added in the release.

Studies show that more than 53,000 low-income families in Sarasota County are “cost burdened,” spending upward of 30% of monthly income on housing costs, the release points out. “The county aims to reach at least 2,000 of these households when the Energy Upgrade program launches,” the release adds.

The program will target low-income residents, focusing on those living in older, less-efficient homes across Sarasota County. The lowest-income residents in Sarasota County spend up to 19% of their income solely on energy bills, according to studies, the release notes. By contrast, county homeowners and renters with incomes above the area median spend just 2% to 3% of their income on energy, the release adds.

Volunteers will play a crucial role in the Energy Upgrade program, acting as “Energy Coaches” who conduct in-home energy evaluations and offer education and advice on no- and low-cost energy upgrades, the release explains. “Anyone interested in becoming an Energy Coach must attend hands-on training across five sessions, beginning July 19,” the release notes.

“This program is part of the county’s efforts to support housing affordability and financial stability for our residents most in need,” the release says. Helping 2,000 low-income residents to reduce their utility bills will lead to an estimated total savings of $334,000 per year for participating families, the release points out. At the same time, the initiative will improve air quality by reducing local emissions of carbon dioxide by 2,900 metric tons annually, roughly the same as if 621 passenger vehicles were removed from the roads, the release adds.

To learn more about the Energy Upgrade program, call 861-5000 or email sarasota@ifas.ufl.edu. For more information about becoming an Energy Coach or to register, visit rebrand.ly/ufsarasotaext_energycoach.