Furnace Failure Means a Difficult Winter Until Foundation Offers Family Aid

Furnace Failure Means a Difficult Winter Until Foundation Offers Family Aid

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 customers avoid furnace failure and get a good night’s sleep, contact us.

LMI Households Face Obstacles to Achieving Energy Efficiency

LMI Households Face Obstacles to Achieving Energy Efficiency

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.

 

Heat Pumps: What Misconceptions Do Homeowners Have?

Heat Pumps: What Misconceptions Do Homeowners Have?

Heat pumps are misunderstood by many homeowners – many still believe that they do not adequately heat homes or know very little about them.

Heat pumps are more energy efficient, because they move warm air from one space to another instead of generating cold or hot air. They can save homeowners hundreds of dollars annually in HVAC and maintenance costs, while significantly reducing their carbon footprint. However, many homeowners are uncertain how heat pumps work and what benefits they can see from them.

Additionally, certain heat pumps – specifically ENERGY STAR-certified ones – can earn homeowners federal tax credits. Several states, local municipalities and utilities have additional initiatives to tempt homeowners to invest in a heat pump, but many homeowners aren’t aware of these benefits.

We turned to Don Johnson of Freedom Heating and Cooling in Birmingham, Alabama, to get a frontline view on how customers view heat pumps, from someone who is out in the field every day. Don is the president at Freedom, which has been serving northern Alabama since 2003, when Don’s father, John Johnson, first began operations. Don and Freedom joined the HomeServe team in 2020.

Don participated in a quick question-and-answer session to give a snapshot of how customers view heat pumps right now.

Q: If a customer is interested in energy efficiency or saving money, have they expressed interest in heat pumps?

A: Not usually.

Q: If you’ve suggested an upgrade/installation, have you encountered any misperceptions/confusion from customers? What were they?

A: Most misunderstandings are that a heat pump will not heat the house as well as a furnace. Older heat pumps were often thought to not be working because the air out of the vent was not as hot as a furnace. However, 95-degree air will warm a home, but will also “feel” cool as it blows over you.

Q: What are the most common concerns from customers about the installation of a heat pump?

A: Is it “right” for my home.

Q: Are customers generally well-informed?

A: No.

Q: Do customers understand what a heat pump is? If they don’t know, do you explain it to them or sell them something else?

A: We have to educate the benefits of lower gas bills with heat pumps, especially with dual fuel systems, which combine both gas heating and a heat pump.

Q: What are the top reasons customers list to have a heat pump installed?

A: Comfort, and humidity control is better with a heat pump than a furnace.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to customers having heat pumps installed?

A: Electrical panel size and wiring are the biggest concerns. Proper size ductwork is more critical for a heat pump than a furnace or air conditioner.

Q: When you recommend heat pumps to customers, what benefits do you highlight?

A: Energy savings, comfort and better humidity through the winter.

Q: Are you seeing an increase in interest?

A: Heat pumps are more acceptable today than in the past.

Q: Any questions coming up frequently?

A: Will it heat my home as well as a furnace.

Q: How often do customers come to you with questions about heat pumps?

A: No; not often. We tend to bring up the subject.

Q: What makes the ideal customer or job?

A: Younger families with comfort concerns. Older individuals grew up with the blast of “hot” air and want that.

Educating homeowners about the benefits of a heat pump is an uphill battle, but partnering with HomeServe can help you take it on – we have a nationwide network of pre-vetted contractors who know HVAC and can help customers work out whether a heat pump is the smart move for their home.

HomeServe partners with utilities throughout North America to help educate their customers, shield them from the unexpected expense of emergency home repairs and make finding a reputable contractor easier. We have an optional warranty plan for all of your customers’ most vital whole-home systems, including HVAC, interior electric, interior plumbing and electrical and gas connections.

For more information on how we can help bring your customers peace of mind, contact us.

 

Gas Line Repairs Send Struggling Family into Financial Shock

Gas Line Repairs Send Struggling Family into Financial Shock

Jessica G. of Albuquerque was struggling with degenerative nerve disease and late-stage cancer, but she had the support of her extended family and her business, SOS of New Mexico, to keep her occupied.

As a long-time, second-generation business owner, she was able to continue to work running background checks out of a home office space, having taken over the business from her mother. Jessica also had the comfort of her extended family, including her mother, son, daughter and two grandchildren, surrounding and helping her.

Jessica didn’t have it easy, but she had a strong support network and fulfilling work.

Everything Goes Wrong at Once

Then came the day when the family found water spreading across the floor after the hot water heater had burst. “My son’s carpet was wet and we thought the dog’s water spilled, but you stepped on it and [half an inch] of water came to the top,” Jessica said.

The family received more bad news when they learned that their furnace needed expensive repairs as the winter months quickly approached. “Six [valves] went out at one time,” Jessica said. “It was starting to get cold at night, and my daughter has a newborn and a two-year-old.”

With a new baby in the home, the malfunctions had come at the worst possible time. The family couldn’t financially handle so much going wrong at once. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Jessica said.

People like Jessica, who face serious illness, are particularly financially vulnerable. Those battling cancer are two and a half times more likely to go bankrupt, even though approximately 75 percent have health insurance when they are diagnosed. Financial difficulty makes recovering even more difficult.

Turning to a Trusted Friend

Facing a winter with a faulty furnace and no hot water, Jessica turned to Eric Maxon, Steward’s Plumbing president, with whom she’d been a member of a business association.

“My first thought was Steward’s Plumbing,” Jessica said. “There’s no one in Albuquerque I trust more.”

Steward’s Plumbing had done Jessica’s plumbing work for years, because she trusted their competency and professionalism and they understood her home’s heating and plumbing systems. Having a plumber who is trustworthy and competent, without having to seek out and contact multiple plumbers to receive quotes, was important to her.

Steward’s Plumbing is a HomeServe USA network contractor, and Eric was familiar with the home repair company’s charitable arm, HomeServe Cares, which provides home repairs at no cost to those who qualify. “I’ve known Jessica for years,” Eric said. “We’ve worked together on several projects, and getting these repairs done would be life-changing for her and her family.”

A National Company Steps In to Help

In order to become a HomeServe network contractor, Steward’s Plumbing employees had to pass background checks and drug screenings, and the company’s insurance, license and certification was confirmed. In addition, the company must maintain an A rating with the Better Business Bureau and a high customer satisfaction percentage. HomeServe uses local contractors, because not only are they close by and convenient, but they are familiar with local permitting processes and building codes.

Eric reached out to HomeServe and proposed Jessica and her family as candidates for HomeServe Cares. HomeServe agreed to help the family and dispatched Steward’s Plumbing to replace the hot water heater and repair valves in the radiant heat furnace.

“I couldn’t believe he and HomeServe worked so diligently to make this happen for me,” Jessica said. “Thank you, HomeServe!”

To learn more about how we can help people in our community, contact us.