Columns Opinion Your Views — 10 November 2011

To many Alexandria residents, fall weather signals that it’s time to prepare their homes for winter. However, for low-income homeowners — many of whom are elderly, disabled or veterans — the cost and effort involved in the seasonal upkeep of a home is often beyond their financial and physical capabilities.

Katharine Medina

Necessary repairs are not always obvious. Inside homes with normal exteriors, owners may be coping with a multitude of problems that only worsen during cold weather.

One longtime Alexandria resident and business owner sold his restaurant and spent his life savings on life-saving cancer treatments. Having no income or nest egg, he could not afford to repair his bathroom and for three years resorted to using public restrooms. Recent floods had also caused mold and water damage to the basement of his house.

Before he gave up on his house or suffered any more from its disrepair, Rebuilding Together Alexandria stepped in to restore his residence to a safe, comfortable home. We work with dedicated volunteers and funders to provide free repairs and modifications to ensure that low-income Alexandria homeowners like this man can live in warm, safe and dry homes. We have worked on more than 1,400 projects in Alexandria since 1986.

Most of our clients are like this man — people who are proud homeowners, but who, because of life circumstances, have a hard time maintaining their homes and making ends meet.

Now, before colder weather makes many low-income homeowners’ situations dire, Rebuilding Together Alexandria is ramping up our efforts in a number of ways. Why not join us and help your neighbors in need by preparing their homes for winter? We have produced a list of five easy, energy-saving upgrades to help struggling residents:

• Set water heater to 120 degrees. According to the Department of Energy, every 10-degree reduction in water temperature will save between 3 percent to 5 percent in energy costs.

• Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps. Energy-saving light bulbs cost as little as $6 and last 12 times longer, saving up to $50 on electric bills over the life of the bulb.

• Install “foam gaskets” for electrical outlets. With very little time and money, foam pieces can be inserted under the faceplates of outlets and switches on external walls, saving significant energy and money.

• Cover AC and hot water tanks. Covering window or wall-mounted air conditioning units with a “jacket” during the winter months will keep a home warmer and save money. Also, putting a 3-inch insulating jacket on a hot water tank will save about $40 a year.

• Caulk around doors and windows. Caulking — along with weather-stripping — will cut energy use, saving nearly $200 a year.

These upgrades are important since low-income housing tends to be in poor condition and inefficient. As a result, the families in these homes spend three times the average for heating and electricity. In fact, most of Rebuilding Together’s clients spend about 14 percent of their income on energy as compared to 3.5 percent for higher-income households.

That’s why we are challenging residents to give an hour to help a neighbor. If more people reach out and help a friend with these simple weatherization tips, we can save energy, change a life and strengthen our community. Anyone who would like to help or who knows someone in need of our services can contact Rebuilding Together Alexandria at 703-836-1021.

The writer is executive director of Rebuilding Together Alexandria.

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