Rebuilding Together Alexandria prepares for winter

Rebuilding Together Alexandria prepares for winter
(Laura Sikes)

By Melissa Quinn

Volunteers with Rebuilding Together Alexandria gathered at more than 20 city houses on Saturday, weatherizing struggling resident’s homes in preparation for the winter months.

For more than five years, Energize Alexandria volunteers have offered their services to clients — many elderly — during the fall and winter months. Energy bills spike with the onset of the cold weather and for many that means juggling expenses and scrounging up cash, said Katharine Dixon, RTA’s executive director.

Her volunteers seal air gaps in door and window frames, trapping heat inside the home instead of escaping through cracks.

“It’s often hard to tell but a lot of air is lost through the small holes in window frames,” Dixon said. “Even though they’re small holes, air can escape and before you know it you’ve got a high heating bill.”

Aside from soaring gas prices, many Alexandria residents also struggle paying to have their homes fixed, Dixon said. Just putting weather stripping and caulk around windows and doors can drastically lower utility bills.

Arthur Nelson, who has lived in his Alexandria home for more than 50 years, was one of the residents RTA volunteers visited. They checked his home’s windows and doors, running an air test to find drafts.

“I know I’m not able to do some of these things,” Nelson said.

In 2012, Dixon said, RTA’s clients paid 24 percent less on utility bills. In 2011, clients dished out 30 percent less.

And the organization weatherized between 60 and 70 homes last year alone. Dixon predicts RTA’s volunteers will work on 80 to 100 more between October and April. While sealing in the hot air reduces utility bills, sealing in cool air during the summer acquires the same results.

“Many homeowners don’t even know that just by doing one simple thing, they can reduce their energy consumption,” Dixon said.

Founded in 1986, the nonprofit serves Alexandria’s low-income homeowners, reaching out to those who may have difficulty paying medical bills, food bills or fixing their homes. Throughout the year, the organization deploys volunteers to do home improvement projects for residents.

In addition to the weatherization, volunteers will return to Nelson’s home to replace a basement storm door and install grab bars in his bathrooms.

Though Saturday’s event brought together 50 to 75 volunteers, the group draws 1,000 volunteers throughout the year for home improvement projects that may not take a lot of skill.

“People who are not handy men or women or contractors can help out … because it’s low-skilled tasks we need help with,” Dixon said.

The group, which receives funding from donations and corporations, does more than weatherization, too. Projects include painting, doing yard work, replacing household items such as doors, and removing appliances like air conditioners.

“I wish more homeowners would ask us for help because we have so many volunteers just eager to help and give back,” Dixon said. “We’re always happy to help out our local neighbors here in Alexandria.”