Anita I. and her family had to be innovative to survive a winter after experiencing a furnace failure in their Dunbar, West Virginia, home.
Anita placed small heaters in bedrooms and the living room, but the electric system in the home couldn’t handle any more, leaving other parts of the home, such as the kitchen, unheated during one of the coldest winters in nearly a decade.
“No matter how I moved them around, there was no power to heat the kitchen,” Anita said.
Heating the home that she shares with several of her grandchildren with space heaters was also anxiety-inducing for Anita, despite having no heat because of the furnace failure.
“I was so scared that the house was going to catch on fire,” she said. “I didn’t sleep well at all. I was constantly getting up in the middle of the night to check on them.”
Additionally, because her furnace failure, her home got so cold that her water lines froze six times.
“We had no water at all – thank God that it didn’t last for days at a time,” she said. “We kept bottled water for the kids to drink, and we got smart and would plug up the sinks to keep enough water to flush the toilet and tried to be inventive. We would pray for it to warm up, because we didn’t have water anywhere in the house.”
Anita was dreading the prospect of facing another winter without heat, little sleep and freezing pipes because.
“My daughter and I have been praying,” she said. “We called in a company, and they said it would cost $6,000 to fix our heater, and there was no way I to come up with that money. I just started thinking: how can I go through another winter like this?”
Then, Anita’s daughter spotted an article online about the HomeServe Cares Foundation, the charitable arm of HomeServe North America. Among other community outreach projects, the Foundation provides free emergency home repairs to qualifying homeowners that address safety and sanitary issues or improve quality of life. Anita and her daughter reached out to the Foundation for help, and Tamara (Tammy) Gross, a HomeServe customer experience specialist, was assigned to assist them.
“Tammy made me feel so wonderful,” Anita said. “I didn’t want to feel like I was begging, and she didn’t make me feel that way.”
Tammy connected Anita with McAtee Plumbing Heating and Cooling, a contractor with whom HomeServe regularly works, and a technician was sent out to evaluate her furnace failure. They found that the unit was over 30 years old, and it would be unsafe to repair it, so it would have to be replaced.
“The first gentleman who came out to check and see if it was repairable, as he was leaving the house, I told him, ‘Please pray that it goes through,’ and he just gave me the biggest smile and said he sure would. The young men they sent out were very respectful.”
The Foundation agreed with the assessment that the furnace needed to be replaced and covered the entire $3,100 cost of parts and labor.
“God has to have his hands over your company, because I am in awe over what you did for me,” Anita said. “You were such a blessing to me and my family. I thank God for you and call you angels because you are angels to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but now I’ll be able to sleep at night.”
To learn how you can help your members avoid furnace failure and get a good night’s sleep, contact us.
Typically, one of the first things Carla S. of Okmulgee, Oklahoma does in the mornings is hop into a hot shower. So, on one August day when the water was only getting lukewarm at best, she knew she had a problem. Sure enough, she ventured into her garage where her hot water heater was installed and noticed water leaking everywhere.
“The minute I saw the water in my garage, my heart sank into my stomach,” Carla recalled. “I knew that I couldn’t afford this type of emergency and started to pray for some sort of miracle.”
As someone who is on social security with no available savings, it’s no surprise that the situation sent Carla into a panic. It wouldn’t be feasible to live without hot water, and she didn’t have a backup plan or any sort of coverage on her water heater to help ease the financial burden. She did what many of us would do – vent about her situation on social media. And luckily for Carla, a longtime friend from high school, Lyle, came across her post. He is a decades-long employee at her utility company, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO), a part of AEP, and he had a great idea on how he could help.
Through his job, he was aware of the work the HomeServe Cares Foundation has done for PSO customers, and he suggested Carla apply to see if she qualified for aid. The case was quickly approved, and before long, HomeServe reached out to begin the coordination of the repair. Air Assurance, a local and reliable member of HomeServe’s Contractor Network, was on site shortly afterward and began to assess what would be needed. The water heater needed to be replaced and brought up to code – a total savings for Carla of over $1,100 since HomeServe Cares picked up the bill.
“I’ve known Carla for a very long time and have seen her struggle both with her physical health and financially,” said Lyle, a Customer Services Account Representative at PSO. “I can’t explain how so very proud I am of AEP’s relationship with HomeServe and the community attentiveness demonstrated through actions like this.”
The HomeServe Cares Foundation works to assist eligible homeowners with free repairs when they are faced with a service emergency. HomeServe will arrange for emergency repairs at no cost to the homeowner through HomeServe’s network of local, licensed and qualified contractors.
“HomeServe came through for me in a way I never would have imagined,” Carla said. “You’ve taken so much weight off my shoulders by being willing to help me when I needed it most. There is no way I could have come up with the money to fix this on my own. I’m so thankful for the company and the HomeServe Cares program.”
To learn more about how your customers can benefit through the HomeServe Cares Foundation, contact us.
Not only are people – especially those who are most vulnerable, including children, the elderly, those with circulatory or pulmonary disorders and those without housing – being impacted with heat-related illnesses, more of us are simply getting sicker.
There’s good reason officials urge residents to go to public spaces equipped with air conditioning. Heat-related deaths dropped by 80 percent between 1960 and 2004 as the number of homes with home air conditioning increased to 85 percent, according to a study conducted by Tulane and Carnegie Mellon universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Air conditioning can be a literal lifesaver.
In a study, it was found that among those self-reporting heat-related illnesses, one-third did not have working air conditioning, with those without air conditioning almost four times more likely to have experienced symptoms of heat exhaustion. The study also found that low-income households were more than three times as likely to not have working air conditioning.
Carol R. of Mason, Ill., would have fallen through the cracks if it hadn’t been for her energy co-operative, Southwestern Electric Cooperative.
She and her husband were older adults with a fixed income, and her husband suffered from a chronic pulmonary health problem. Additionally, they were often caretakers for their young grandchildren.
Her heat pump failed at the very beginning of the summer and she was without air conditioning. The estimated cost to repair the heat pump was more than $3,100, and the unit was less than a decade old. The cost to fix the heat pump represented a significant portion of their annual income.
“I was searching to find the money to replace it on Social Security,” she said.
Carol was doing more strenuous chores around the house early in the morning to beat the heat, but she knew that, for the sake of her husband and grandchildren, she needed to get the heat pump fixed.
“I don’t have any air,” she said. “Outside, it’s 95 degrees, and it’s 83 degrees in the house, and I’ve got six fans running – four in the living room, one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and we’ve got a dehumidifier running so we’re not dying.”
So, she reached out to Southwestern to find out if there was anything the co-op could do to assist, and the utility had an answer for her.
“They reached out and said, ‘we have this partner, HomeServe,’ she said.
HomeServe is a leading provider of emergency home repair plans, and, as part of our partnerships with utility providers, the HomeServe Cares Foundation provides pro-bono emergency repairs for qualifying homeowners. Southwestern helped make a connection between Carol and the Foundation, and the Foundation agreed to take on the repair for Carol.
“Oh my gosh, it was just intense, intense relief,” she said.
To learn how HomeServe can help you protect your most vulnerable members, contact us.
Low- and Middle-Income (LMI) households have historically faced obstacles to becoming more energy efficient, despite the outsized impact efficiency measures would have for this population.
Low-income households pay more than 7 percent of their income on energy bills, three times that of higher income households, and if LMI households could reach average efficiency, their bills would be reduced by a third. However, many LMI households don’t have the savings or the credit to implement energy efficiency measures and aren’t aware of programs and incentives that could make efficiency more affordable.
Programs like the Weatherization Assistance Program and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program are operated by different federal departments, and a lack of coordination between programs in some areas make it difficult for LMI households to apply or leverage the programs to the best advantage. For example, if a household is consistently applying for LIHEAP funds, it may be an indication that weatherization would help lower the overall energy bill. However, if the same entity isn’t administering both programs in the community, then that connection made not be made.
Program awareness is made more difficult through a lack of trust in low-income neighborhoods, where predatory financial lenders have made residents wary of free or low-cost measures and there is a reluctance to allow people from outside the community into their homes, said Tony Reames, director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Diversifying the workforce that conducts onsite energy efficiency measures and working with long-standing and trusted community partners, such as community centers or churches, is one way to elicit more trust and participation, he added.
Because of their struggles with affordability, one in five LMI households have reduced spending on food or medicine and 10 percent keep their homes at unsafe temperatures to reduce their energy bill. And, similar to food deserts, energy efficiency is often a costlier or more difficult to procure option in low-income neighborhoods than in more affluent neighborhoods. Many low-income communities have older homes that have not been updated because systemic policies such as redlining, resulting in housing stock that has poor efficiency.
Some states are addressing the financial obstacle by allowing on-bill financing or recovery, which allows rate payers to pay for efficiency upgrades over time, such as New York’s “bill neutral” program, established through the Green Jobs-Green New York Act and the Power NY Act. The two-tier program offers private market loans to those who can meet the credit requirements and a second, utility-financed tier for those who can’t. Those on the utility-financed tier also receive a lower interest rate, based on an area’s median income.
Oregon’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Technology Act offers a state loan program with an on-bill financing, that offers loans between $2,000 and $30,000 for efficiency and includes a free energy audit as part of the financing process. The Help My House program, launched by a group of South Carolina co-operatives with U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program funding, also utilizes on-bill financing to fund a whole-home energy efficiency approach. Those who participated in the pilot are paying off the 10-year loans through a surcharge on their bills. However, because they’ve saved so much through whole-home efficiency, there is an average $25 savings each month, even with the loan.
Legislators and regulators also expect utilities to include energy efficiency programs for LMI households in their portfolios. A partnership with HomeServe can help proactively address energy efficiency and safety for your LMI customers with a suite of optional home repair policies that cover every energy contingency, from gas lines to exterior electric to HVAC and water heaters.
LMI households will often not address maintenance and repair issues, even if it means their whole home systems are not working efficiently, because they can’t afford to address them. For example, an annual HVAC system tune-up can ensure that systems are working at an optimal level and that small issued are addressed before they become big problems. Water heaters also require regular maintenance and lose efficiency over time, with most having only a useable lifespan of only 10 years.
HomeServe policies can address all these issues for your LMI customers and help them keep their home energy systems in the best shape possible. For more information about how we can help your customers improve their energy efficiency, contact us.
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