Stockbridge Outreach in Action

Assistance advice and energy-saving tips for combating winter’s chill

TIP: Use storm windows and/or put up plastic sheeting over your interior windows to increase their insulation value. Photo credit: Chloe Ridgway on Unsplash.com

by Jo Mayer and Paul Crandall

While the cool breezes of fall bring back memories of school, fall sports, bonfires and hay rides to some of us, to others they bring the chilling realization that heating season will start soon. Many are ill-prepared to weather that monetary storm. It is no secret that costs have gone up, and the board and staff at Stockbridge Community Outreach are concerned about how this next heating season will intensify clients’ needs.

A review of our past expenditures for utility assistance to our clients renders startling results. In 2020, Outreach helped clients keep the lights and heat on to the tune of nearly $14,000 in assistance. The 2021 expenditures on behalf of clients climbed to nearly $20,000 in utility support. We’ve had to hold on to our hats as we look at the numbers so far for 2022: As of September 7, payments to avert shut-offs or to fill empty propane tanks have topped $24,000—and the heating season hasn’t officially started yet!

In response, Outreach has researched grants to help cover increased costs and launched a winterization project to help our clients keep the heat in and the cold out. We approached Lowe’s of Jackson for materials, and they quickly and quietly gave us foam insulation, draft stoppers and other items to block heat loss. (Thank you, Lowe’s of Jackson!)

We’re also connecting our clients to programs offered by DTE and Consumers Energy. According to Brian Wheeler, Consumers Energy Media Relations Manager, their Helping Neighbors program offers customers a free home energy analysis providing a detailed look at the home’s energy use and useful, specific tips on ways to reduce energy for long-term savings. During the appointment, qualified customers may also receive upgrades, such as water-pipe insulation, LED bulbs, water-saving showerheads, faucet aerators or even a programmable thermostat.

To enroll in the Consumers Energy program, a customer can schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with an energy analyst by visiting https://homeanalysis-consumersenergy.com/schedule/ .

For more information on the similar DTE program, go to https://newlook.dteenergy.com/wps/wcm/connect/dte-web/home/save-money-energy/residential/get-started-with/limited-income-assistance.

Given the high cost of fuel for everyone, whether it comes as electricity, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, or wood, we thought we’d share some suggestions for reducing your heat and electric bills this winter:

  • Wrap your HOT water pipes with insulation. If exposed to drafts, wrap both hot and cold pipes and seal up the draft.
  • Wrap your water heater with an insulating blanket.
  • Caulk or spray foam around any gaps near pipes leading to the outside.
  • Caulk any gaps around windows.
  • Use storm windows and/or put up plastic sheeting over your interior windows to increase their insulation value.
  • Use LED light bulbs for all lighting.
  • Use draft stoppers between rooms and at exterior doors.
  • Use weather stripping around doors where gaps exist between the door and frame. (If you can see light coming in, the heat is going out!)
  • Turn down the heat in rooms not in use, and turn off the heat in unused rooms as long as there is no plumbing in the wall/room.
  • Check out the “smart thermostat” programs offered by your electric company, along with any energy-saving programs and tips they offer.
  • Insulate exterior outlets with ready-made foam blockers.
  • Insulate the attic and any exterior walls lacking insulation.
  • Make sure all windows and doors are completely closed and locked.
  • Consider putting on warmer clothes and setting your thermostat a couple of degrees cooler.

While these steps may seem small, they add up and will be worth it when the colder winds blow.

NOTE: Be sure to use the proper insulation for each application, for example: ready-made insulators for outlets.

This column is sponsored by Stockbridge Community Outreach, our local food pantry, crisis, and referral center located in the Stockbridge Activity Center (old middle school) near Cherry & Elm Streets in Stockbridge.  Office hours are 1-3pm, Monday, Wednesday, & Fridays and by appointment. Outreach49285@gmail.com, 517-851-7285, or find us on Facebook.