By Katharine Dixon, Executive director, Rebuilding Together Alexandria
To the editor:
Winters can be long for low-income homeowners, many of whom are elderly, disabled or veterans. For many seniors, the cost and effort involved in the seasonal upkeep of a house often can be beyond their financial and physical capabilities.
Necessary repairs are not always obvious, either. Inside homes with normal exteriors, owners may be coping with a variety of problems that will worsen during cold weather.
That’s why Rebuilding Together Alexandria, a volunteer-based nonprofit working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize the community by providing free home repairs, has put together these top five energy- and money-saving tips that neighbors can do for neighbors in need (or even themselves):
1. Set water heater to 120 degrees: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, every 10-degree reduction in water temperature will save between 3 percent to 5 percent in energy costs.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Cover air-conditioning units 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 an electric hot water tank will save about $40 a year.
5. Caulk around doors and windows: Caulking — along with weather-stripping — will cut energy use, saving nearly $200 a year.
To lower utility bills, other ideas include installing low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets, putting in a programmable thermostat, insulating attic hatches, air-drying dishes, and using power strips.
These upgrades are important since low-income housing tends to be in poor condition and energy inefficient, often resulting in vulnerable homeowners spending three times the average for heating and electricity.
In fact, most of Rebuilding Together Alexandria’s clients live near the poverty level — earning less than $27,500 a year. They typically spend about 14 percent of their income on energy, as compared to 3.5 percent for higher-income households.
Another way you can help an elderly neighbor is by referring them to Rebuilding Together Alexandria. Throughout the year, our volunteers — many skilled — give their time to help fix homes and provide struggling homeowners with energy-efficiency upgrades.
As winter approaches, consider joining us to help a neighbor by using the tips above, sending them our way or volunteering. A few simple acts — including making a referral — can change a life, save energy and help strengthen our community.