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High Home Energy Costs Threaten the Health and Finances of Many Americans


June 22, 2010

Contact: AARP Media Relations,, 202-434-2560


High Home Energy Costs Threaten the Health and Finances of Many Americans

New AARP study highlights impact on older adults as summer heat takes hold


WASHINGTON—As the summer begins, new research illustrates the dangers—including aggravating chronic health conditions, food insecurity and even premature death—that many older Americans face from high home energy costs. 

AARP’s Public Policy Institute and the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association released “Affordable Home Energy and Health: Making the Connections,” which details the wide-ranging effects of temperature, health and safety as they relate to age and health conditions.  The paper offers recommendations that promote adequate and affordable home energy use, and explores the role of home energy in maintaining both economic and health security for older adults and people of all ages.

“Millions of Americans are struggling to afford basic necessities in this economy, including their utility bills,” said AARP Executive Vice President John Rother.  “Policymakers and our elected officials must understand that making home energy more affordable is not only good policy but may save lives.”


The principal findings of the research include:

Temperature, health and personal safety are connected.  Risk factors that impair the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature, and thus heightening vulnerability, include age, chronic health conditions, medications, cognitive impairment and mobility restrictions. Between 1,700 and 1,800 deaths per year in the United States are attributable to heat-related conditions.

Lower socioeconomic status is associated with a greater risk of temperature-related death, particularly for older adults.   High and volatile home energy costs make heating and cooling increasingly unaffordable to millions of low- and moderate-income households, many of which include older adults.   The average low-income household spends 16 percent of its annual income on home energy costs—more than four times the national average.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) improves access to home energy, but it has not kept pace with need and does not guarantee affordable utility service.

Less than one-quarter of the 33.8 million eligible households received LIHEAP funding in 2009.   In addition, LIHEAP benefits cover only a portion of home energy costs.  The percentage of the total home heating bill covered by LIHEAP benefits decreased from 23 percent in 1981 to 10 percent in FY 2007.

Policy recommendations include: expanding categorical eligibility for LIHEAP, weatherization service and other affordable energy programs to target groups identified as most at-risk; ensuring state-regulated utility consumer protections and policies (such as shutoff policies) recognize and address the needs of groups identified as most at-risk of adverse health outcomes; and, balancing the need to reduce energy consumption with protecting the health and safety for older adults and persons living with disabilities.

“Increased demand coupled with rising costs of home energy creates a potential disaster for many of our neighbors who cannot afford to cool or heat their homes,” added Rother.  “We must work together to find solutions, raise awareness about the linkages between temperature and health and—more importantly—how to prevent future damage to the health and safety of our loved ones.”


AARP offers five tips to help older Americans beat the heat throughout the summer months:

The Great Indoors: Lower your daytime electric bill and avoid peak temperatures by visiting public places with air conditioning.  Spend an afternoon playing cards with a friend over lemonade in a mall food court or reading a book at your local library.  Many communities open cooling centers to help keep you safe in extreme temperatures.

Getting Out and About:  If you have to go out, wear loose-fitting clothing and protect yourself from the sun with a hat and sunglasses.  Check your local public transportation system, which may offer free rides during particularly hot or smoggy days—helping get you where you need to go without spending a fortune on gas.  And obviously, avoid going outside during the hottest times of the day.

Think Before You Drink: Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty, to help keep your body cool.  Avoid caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you.

Staying Cool at Home: The best way to avoid the heat may also be the most relaxing—just lay low at home.  Put off any big chores around and, especially, outside your home.  Lower your shades to keep out sunshine, and stay on lower levels as heat rises.  Use your air conditioner if you have one—it can be a lifesaver. If you need assistance paying your electric bill, ask your utility about payment options and assistance programs. And don’t rely on a fan alone: just circulating hot air won’t keep you cool.

Do Unto Others, As Well As Yourself:  Talk with your doctor about any chronic medical condition or medication, as some can place you at higher risk for heat-related illness.  Take time to check in on family, friends, or neighbors to make sure they are not suffering from the heat.


The AARP Public Policy Institute paper is available at

For more information, go to


AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole.  AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates.  We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.7 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website,  AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors.  We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


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