How much did taxpayers pay for caulk?

September 23, 2009 9:34:31 AM PDT
It's already cost you $2.5 million and tens of millions more will soon be heading out the door. Houston's City Hall is big on going green and so is the president, but wait until you see the bills. 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino is back, watching out for your money. On Monday, we questioned why the city is paying nine bucks for a two dollar light bulb and why folks getting these free light bulbs can't screw them in themselves. Now, we focus on a simple tube of caulk.

The power of good ol' Uncle Fester. You remember him. He lived with his Addams family in a haunted mansion. But what if Uncle Fester lived in a townhouse on Rosedale instead? Then Joyce Aquil probably wouldn't have needed the energy efficiency makeover that you paid for.

"I just know I got these things through the City of Houston. I'm a low-income senior citizen," said Joyce.

The city put in those new energy saving light bulbs. Joyce calls them "squigglies."

"They may be energy efficient, but they are a little dull," said Joyce. "I'm squinting, but maybe Reliant isn't kicking me in the kneecaps."

Most of her windows were caulked too. It helps keep the heat out. We showed Joyce the bill.

"That seems much, but I don't know about caulking," said Joyce.

You can by it by the case at The Home Depot. The good stuff costs about seven bucks a tube for 49 feet of caulk in this one tube.

So they needed to squeeze out about $40 worth of caulk around Joyce's windows. How much did that cost taxpayers? More than $1,100.

The State of Texas has its own weatherization program outside the city limits. And caulk is one of their deals too.

"I wasn't aware of what other folks were doing," said Gavin Dillingham.

We are. The state paid just $7.50 for the entire tube of caulk and the labor to squeeze it on. Joyce's windows would have cost about $50.

The nine dollar light bulbs she got from the city would have cost about two bucks at The Home Depot. City Hall says the prices were part of a contractor's low bid.

"It shows government spends taxpayer money almost at a whim," said Mike Sullivan of the Houston City Council.

The city doesn't care that Joyce is just renting or that her landlord has $1 million in property and still gets to benefit from your tax money.

"The property would be more valuable in a way, kind of, sort of, because it has all that insulating, energy-saving stuff," said Joyce.

"We're focusing on the poor individual within the home, not the actual owner of the property," said Dillingham.

Take, for instance, a new Energy Star ceiling fan. The price for the Harbor Breeze fan from the city's program was $219.45.

"Seems a little high," said Dillingham.

Especially since we could buy the same ceiling fan online for just $45. Even paying Lowe's installation price, we could have saved $70 on one fan.

When we asked Dillingham if he would pay $219 for that ceiling fan, he replied, "I can install my own ceiling fans."

The city put in five fans in this one house. That's more than $1,100.

Back at Joyce's house, we see the energy efficiency refrigerator she got for free. The contractor got to mark up the price about $100.

"Great refrigerator, but it cost too much," said Joyce.

Your energy saving investment in Joyce's house was $4,920. Hope it really lowered Joyce's light bill.

"There is none. No difference," said Joyce.

The city claims its weatherization program has saved folks about $700,000 already, with cuts of 12 to 20 percent on their light bills.

"None. Zero. Nada," said Joyce.

It's not all tax money, but the money to pay for the fans, fridges and solar screens came out of your pocket, too -- $4.5 million. CenterPoint Energy was ordered to provide this stuff because of overcharging. Ironic, isn't it?

Supporters say this is an investment that could someday cut the need for more power plants and lower bills for all of us. If you believe that, you'll love what we will tell you Wednesday on Eyewitness News at 10pm.

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