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7 Tips to Increase the Health and Safety of Low-Income Homes

November 23, 2020 David Myers and Russell Bayba

Safe, affordable and healthy housing is the foundation for quality of life. Lack of proper housing can contribute to lifelong financial, emotional and health challenges—especially vulnerable populations in disadvantaged, low-income communities. In California, disadvantaged communities (DACs) are assessed using multiple factors including environmental, geographic, health, and socio-economics factors. Housing within these communities often suffers from pre-existing conditions and deferred maintenance that decrease the home health environment and increase utility costs. This creates a snowball effect, leading to existing energy efficiency and weatherization programs not installing measures in homes due to these pre-existing conditions. The result? A significant number of people who could benefit most from these programs end up being left behind.

This is obviously a serious issue with repercussions that expand beyond just saving energy and into affecting the lives of DAC community members. So, what’s the solution? How can your utility reach this population in a meaningful way, and how does the pandemic factor in? We recently partnered with a West Coast utility to implement a program that solves this problem. Here’s what we learned.

  1. Layer Funding. Layer government and non-profit funding sources with utility finding to bridge gaps between residents’ needs and program offerings. Together funding sources can provide comprehensive upgrades that improve energy efficiency and home health.
  2. Focus on Low-Income. Focus your efforts on low-income residents by utilizing program metrics and allocating budget to serve the most vulnerable populations. These people will receive the most benefit from the program. Saving money on utility bills provides money for necessities and helps keep people in their homes.
  3. Replace Roofs. Poor roof conditions often disqualify low-income residents from solar programs. Provide funding for roof repair and replacements so residents can participate in these programs and realize the full benefits of their homes’ improvements.
  4. Leverage Central Coordination. Utilize a centrally coordinated program implementer to leverage funding sources, coordinate requirements, and assist with applications. The goal is to make improvements free for low-income residents using this approach.
  5. Connect with Local Contractors. Use local contractors who have experience working in low-income communities. They will serve as trusted messengers on behalf of your utility while leveraging their experience to accomplish their tasks.
  6. Expand Electrification. Expand funding to include electrification measures wherever possible. These serve to increase health and safety for residents while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a win-win for residents and their communities.
  7. Return to Homes. Return to participants to maximize impact from previously installed building shell measures as new programs become available, particularly as the switch to heat pump space conditioning is supported.
  8. Work with Local Agencies. Coordinate with local agencies like public health and building departments to drive and maximize improvements through supplementary funding and reach codes.

The families who are most often experiencing the greatest need and would benefit most significantly from improvements to their homes’ energy efficiency and lower utility bills are often unable to obtain this relief. They are left behind due to gaps in available funding as well as the awareness, paperwork and time required to secure and layer multiple funding sources.

There is undoubtedly a strong connection between energy efficiency and a home’s environmental health, but existing energy efficiency and weatherization programs do not typically fund healthy home interventions.

When implemented correctly, a program to benefit low-income communities and residents should provide homes with measures to promote health, resolve delayed maintenance and reduce energy use. This may include distributing products like LED light bulbs and water-efficient aerators and showerheads. It may also extend to air leakage remediation via measures such as door replacement, weatherstripping, window glass replacement, wall and ceiling repair, and more. Replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with hard-surface vinyl flooring and replacing water heaters are additional measures that may contribute to the health, reduce asthma triggers and increase comfort of residents within the home.

As cold weather approaches, consider how your utility can meet the needs of low-income residents. Download our full case study today to discover how we helped one West Coast utility achieve a 93.75% program completion rate—during the pandemic. Contact us to get started with a program for your utility today.


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