Mary Redelfs watched the mayor stand on her wood living room floor, listening as he exalted a program that keeps her 97-year-old home warm.

There's a new furnace in Redelfs' basement, better insulation, a carbon monoxide alarm and programmable thermostat — and city officials say that's partly thanks to a $10 million federally funded program still laboring to overcome early struggles.

“Not only is it more energy-efficient, it saves a lot of money,” Redelfs said. “It's made my whole life happier, and I would say gives me a lot of hope for the future in terms of lifestyle.”

Officials said Thursday that nearly 350 Omaha homes — the bulk of them east of 72nd Street — have received green upgrades. Some 100 homes in Lincoln have been upgraded.

The number of qualified contractors to perform the work and assess homes' ability to receive such retrofits also has increased, city officials said.

“After a slow start, the program has seen tremendous gains, particularly in the past six months,” Mayor Jim Suttle said in Redelfs' living room.

When the program launched in early 2011, managers hoped to upgrade 3,193 local homes. By September of that year, work had been completed on only 130.

The program is no longer at risk of not being able to spend the city's allotted funds, Omaha Planning Director Rick Cunningham said. Now managers must be careful to avoid excess costs before funding expires in the spring.

The $10 million grant for Omaha and Lincoln — which the cities used to fund their joint reEnergize Program — is part of a $508 million effort that grew out of President Barack Obama's 2009 federal spending package to stimulate the economy.

Cities and states applied for funding, and 41 were selected to receive between $1.4 million and $40 million.

The program's national goal is to improve the energy efficiency of thousands of homes and buildings, with upgrades ranging from better insulation to new furnaces. In doing so, federal officials hoped to create jobs, reduce energy bills and create a lasting interest in green building techniques.

After reports of early struggles surfaced for the Omaha-Lincoln program, program managers lowered the cost to participate, streamlined the signup process and extended grant money to upgrade public buildings.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com, twitter.com/PerezJr

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