Audrianna Jennings is ready for winter. She can caulk windows, install weatherstripping — whatever her family or friends need to keep cold air out of their homes. She acquired her skills helping older Virginia residents save on their heating bills.
Jennings was among 40 people who weather-sealed homes for clients of Mountain Empire Older Citizens Inc., two years ago. The area agency on aging in southwest Virginia asked Mountain Empire Community College AmeriCorps to carry out Operation Energy Save, a checklist of low-cost or no-cost ways to help clients conserve energy, in order to make its heating assistance budget go further.
The AmeriCorps members covered windows with plastic, sprayed foam insulation around pipes, put weather-stripping on the bottoms of doors, and in one case filled a hole in a wall with caulking, then covered it with duct tape.
Jennings, a 21-year-old student at Mountain Empire Community College who lives in Duffield, found the residents appreciative.
"A lot of them were elderly and couldn't actually get up to do things," she said. "I think they really enjoyed the fact that we were coming out to help them."
The strategy worked. The winterization of more than 60 homes reduced heating bills so much that the agency was able to provide money to 10 additional households in the winter of 2008-09, according to Margaret Sturgill, program director for the Mountain Empire Older Citizens' elder rights and security services.
"That's $3,000 it helped save to spend on other people," she said.
The agency's annual budget of nearly $200,000 for heating aid comes entirely from community donations, mostly from a walkathon, she said.
Sturgill and Sue Graham, head of the AmeriCorps program at Mountain Empire Community College, hope to winterize more homes this year.
Last winter, they had to cancel the program because of the H1N1 flu virus.
Operation Energy Save is a do-it-yourself tool kit of simple steps people can use to help their neighbors, friends and relatives winterize their homes. It was developed in Virginia by advocates for older citizens who were concerned with the growing need for public and private heat assistance.
"With a lot of older people living alone, they don't have the resources to do it themselves," said Bill Kallio, AARP Virginia state director, and one of the program's developers.
The Operation Energy Save tool kit includes a checklist of easy procedures that have been proven to reduce energy costs such as:
- close fireplace dampers when not in use;
- lower the temperature on the water heater to 120 degrees; and
- replace or clean furnace filters.
Operation Energy Save, now part of AARP's createthegood.org, is popular in southwest Virginia. The coal-mining region usually has the state's harshest winters.
The AmeriCorps volunteers not only pointed out to residents things that needed to be done, but they also did a lot of the work.
The volunteers, all college students, were trained by Hassel Phillips, a building trades instructor at Wise County Career-Technical Center. Phillips showed them different ways to seal air leaks, from using a caulking gun to applying foam insulation.
Phillips contributed his time, and the volunteers worked with donated supplies, Graham said.
"The way we look at it, we're the neighbor of everybody in our service region," said Graham, whose office is in Big Stone Gap.
Click here for your free copy of the Operation Energy Save checklist, or call toll-free 1-866-542-8164.
Sue Lindsey is a freelance writer living in Roanoke.