This article was originally published in the March/April 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1993
by Thurman B. Everett
It all started in October 1988, when the Brunswick Country Public Housing Agency received $20,000 to develop a weatherization program. The purpose of the program was to improve the thermal environment of poor, elderly, and disabled citizens of the county. Of the $20,000, no more than $1,400 could be spent per unit. It was immediately apparent that many of our applicants would continue to suffer because most of their problems couldn't be solved by weatherization alone. Some houses didn't even have walls or floors to retain heat!
I began looking for ways to stretch the dollars to include basic rehabilitation, but couldn't figure how to do it. During a routine visit to audit a run-down house, I found a way. It turned out that the particular family who lived there had never applied for weatherization, but apparently a family with the same name, on the same street, had. When I nevertheless began an inspection of the house, I noted that there was no ceiling overhead in four rooms, just rafters. There were no walls in the three bedrooms, just stud cavities and cardboard. I could look through the holes in the floor and see the ground underneath. The back door was so cracked that I could see the field outside. Some windows were missing or broken and without panes. The missing windows had cardboard in their places. The missing panes had rags stuffed into the openings. There was no bathroom or running water.
The occupants told me that there were 13 people living in this house including eight children. I asked why two of the children were home and not in school--and why were they wearing overcoats in the house in the middle of the day. Their mother said they had severe colds caused by going to bed cold, sleeping cold, and waking up cold. When I left that house, I was overwhelmed by what my eyes had seen and my ears heard. I gave my word to do something--without knowing how it could be done.
And so, on the drive back to the office, Helping Hands was born. Gaps in people's lives needed to be bridged, and I suddenly saw a way for people to help others. If local government did not remedy these types of housing rehabilitation problems, a non-profit organization could be the catalyst needed to solicit help. Helping Hands soon became official, and I labeled our first rehabilitation case The King Project, named after that family I had visited by mistake.
I called upon colleagues, co-workers, and friends, explaining the situation and how it could be corrected. All agreed to donate time and labor to the family if we could get the needed materials. We prepared a letter and took it to the building suppliers of the county, requesting donated materials to correct the existing problems in the King family house. The building suppliers responded wonderfully. Once the materials were on site, the Hands began working at night and on Saturdays to rehabilitate the house. The project was completed on schedule, at no expense to the Kings. Volunteers installed approximately $750 worth of materials: sheet rock, drywall nails, 3/4 in. plywood (tongue and groove edges), wood nails, felt paper, studs, and wall and attic insulation. Using the Retrotech calculations, we saved 2,100 heating units. [Editor's Note: Heating units here are normalized values derived from the Project Retrotech Home Weatherization Job Book, Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program publication No. EIA-29D.]
The annual budget for the Brunswick County weatherization program increased to $89,000 last year, and dropped this year to $69,000 due to cuts in Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). We have weatherized 173 homes, with 401 occupants, saving 48,966 heating units. In July, the program began using the North Carolina Blower Door Energy Audit Program, part of the North Carolina Field Test for a new audit process. We still need to find a way to get some houses into condition for weatherizing although regulations allow us to use only 25% of our funding for materials for roof, ceiling, or floor repairs.
Helping Hands has made ten homes eligible for weatherization. All needed sheetrock for walls and ceilings, windows, and wall insulation. Three needed wiring, four needed new studs, four needed flooring, three needed new roof shingles, and one needed the floors ripped out and new girders and flooring installed because of termite damage. Because Brunswick County is near the ocean, it gets cold here only three months out of the year. Yet no instrument could measure the heat lost or saved before these houses were fixed. Currently we are working on the Green Affair--rehabbing a grandmother's house which was burned on the inside. She and two children lived there for four years without electricity, running water, a bathroom, ceilings, or interior walls.
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