The pandemic has required people to spend more time at home, forcing them to have higher energy bills as they heat and cool their living spaces.
Facing cuts to income at the same time has made people make tough decisions about whether to use heat or air conditioning.
But a program created by Washington County's Community Action Organization in partnership with the Energy Trust of Oregon is helping people afford to stay in their homes by covering the cost of weatherization and even new heating and cooling systems.
At no cost to residents or landlords, the program has helped more than 200 families with sometimes expensive energy-saving projects that allowed them to stay in their homes, CAO officials said.
With support from the Energy Trust, a nonprofit energy efficiency and renewable energy assistance organization, CAO has made available thousands of dollars for qualifying families for weatherization projects that help keep warm or cool air inside or new equipment.
Weatherization can cost as much as $6,000 and $7,000 and new furnaces or air duct improvements can be as much as $20,000, CAO officials said.
Scott Leonard, program manager at Energy Trust, said in an emailed statement that the projects can be life-changing.
When Lynne Yale moved to her home in Hillsboro 13 years ago, she notices her furnace wasn't effective, according to CAO.
She then started to see her heating bill skyrocket. The 73-year-old lives on a fixed income and couldn't afford to buy a new furnace or afford the energy bills, CAO officials said.
Yale started to keep her thermostat at 60 degrees, used a space heater, closed doors and vents, and knitted a fleece band for her ears and a fleece cover for her nose to wear during the day.
"Over time, her fingertips became red and swollen" from the cold, CAO officials said. "She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pernio, a skin condition caused by cold exposure. Her doctor told her to turn up her heat, but she couldn't do that given her circumstances."
After Yale contacted CAO's Energy Conservation program, the organization made duct repairs, installed fans in the bathrooms and insulated the attic and pipes.
She was also eligible to receive a new furnace.
"They made me happier, safer, and healthier, and now I can have company over," Yale said.
Kemp Shuey, director of CAO, said in a statement the program has helped bring stability and security to many families.
"At first glance, these projects may seem small. But for people struggling with higher energy bills, it can be what actually enables them to keep their homes," Shuey said.
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