ARNOLD – Ernie and Cathleen Butler were just hoping to get some help fixing their roof, but ended up with major home improvements that will save them money on their energy bills – all for free.
The National Association of Home Builders Research Center joined the nonprofit Rebuilding Together to use the Butlers’ home as a model to show how home modifications, big and small, can help keep energy costs down.
When Cathleen Butler heard about the project, “I said, ‘Wonderful, do what you want.’ Believe me, I couldn’t wait.”
The Research Center approached the Anne Arundel County chapter of Rebuilding Together to find a home to use for the project, and the Butlers’ was perfect. In addition to needing the new roof, the house had no insulation, leaky windows and drafty doors.
“It was hard to get our house warm . . . our bills were high,” said Cathleen Butler, 64. Since her husband, 59, uses a wheelchair, she said, she had to climb on the roof during last year’s storms to push snow off, afraid the roof would cave in.
Volunteers replaced the roof and installed insulation, new siding, doors and windows. They also tackled smaller jobs, including using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Other work was done to make rooms more wheelchair-accessible. Supplies were donated by area businesses.
The Butlers could save 40 or 50 percent on their energy bills because of all the major repairs, the research center said.
But even smaller jobs can save homeowners money.
Part of the project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, was developing a checklist of ways to make a house more energy efficient.
The checklist includes smaller measures, like caulking, weatherstripping, sealing ductwork and using energy-efficient light bulbs, that can save homeowners up to 20 percent on their annual bills, according to Lottie Gatewood, spokesperson for Rebuilding Together.
“This is particularly important now, when energy costs are skyrocketing,” Gatewood said.
The Department of Energy reported in early October that prices may rise 9 percent for natural gas and 3 percent for electric.
For the elderly and disabled, the high costs sometimes mean choosing between a warm home and buying food or medicine, Gatewood said.
Low-income homeowners can spend almost 20 percent of their income on energy bills, and elderly owners on fixed incomes can spend up to 35 percent, according to a 2001 study from the National Low-Income Energy Coalition.
The project combines the technology and energy savvy of the Research Center with Rebuilding Together’s know-how and experience with low-income homes.
“The project is a nice extension of our research,” said Michael Luzier, president of the Research Center, which focuses on housing technology, affordability and energy efficiency. “A project like this combines those.”
Rebuilding Together is a national nonprofit organization that does repair work for low-income homeowners, particularly those who are elderly or disabled. But it’s never focused on energy efficiency, said Pat Pyles, vice president of the county chapter.
Rebuilding Together has affiliates in 12 jurisdictions in Maryland that have this year completed work at 485 sites at a value of more than $3 million.
“Our motto is ‘warm, safe and dry,’ and now we can lower their energy bills too,” said Maury Chaput, president of Rebuilding Together, Anne Arundel County.