Despite the high cost of fuel, it is possible to remain warm and safe at home during the winter without taxing the wallet. While it is best to take action before the first cold winds and snowfall, energy efficiency and winter safety can begin at any time.
Many local agencies provide programs that assist older adults with heating costs. Look into local community programs and eligibility requirements. To identify a group in the U.S., start with the eldercare locator.
Ask about the Low-Income Home Energy Assistant Program. This is a federally-funded program that helps eligibile low-income homeowners and renters meet home heating costs. The names of the program and eligibility requirements vary state to state. Be aware that, except for emergency situations, an application deadline is enforced for assistance.
Depending on location, LIHEAP may offer one or more of the following:
- Heating funds that increase the affordability of home energy.
- Low-cost residential weatherization and other home repairs that increase the efficiency of a household’s use of home energy. This will lower energy bills and make homes more comfortable.
- Energy crisis intervention to address weather-related and fuel supply shortages along with other household energy-related emergencies such as utility shutoffs.
Weatherization Assistance Program
Obtain information about the Weatherization Assistance Program. Most state and local governments receive federal funds to help low-income families permanently reduce energy bills by making homes more energy efficient. WAP assistance is free and preference is given to people over age 60 and households with children or people with disabilities. Apply to determine eligibility.
WAP services are provided by local nonprofit agencies that employ energy professionals. They analyze energy systems for safety and determine the most cost-effective energy upgrades for the home. Services include minor repairs, adding insulation, checking for hazards such as carbon monoxide, indoor air quality problems caused by mold and outdated electrical equipment/wiring.
Utility Support and Energy Star
Help also is available from utility companies. Check with gas, water and electricity suppliers to determine if a monthly budget plan can be employed to spread energy costs throughout the year. Utilities may have special heating assistance funds and “no cut off” guidelines to avoid termination of services for older adults, people with disabilities and customers who have serious illnesses.
Look for ways to reduce winter energy use. The Energy Star program run by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy offers steps to make a home more energy efficient. Energy Star is a label that identifies and promotes energy-efficient products, including appliances, lighting and home electronics.
Do-it-yourself energy-saving activities that are simple and inexpensive include:
- Seal air leaks. Weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door to prevent warm air from leaking out of the house. Use storm windows or apply film with double-sided tape to prevent drafts from entering through windows.
- Install a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts the temperature of the home.
- Ensure that furnaces, boilers, or heat pumps have been serviced for winter duty. Change furnace filters at least every three months.
Beyond addressing comfort and warmth, give attention to indoor safety during winter.
Avoid the risk of home fires. Do not use a gas stove or oven to heat the home. Keep batteries and battery-powered flashlight available, and use them instead of candles if power fails. Make sure electrical cords on space heaters are not damaged and do not pose a tripping hazard.
Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide deters are installed and work properly. Replace batteries at least once a year. Insulate exposed water pipes to avoid freezing and prevent bursts. When freezing temperatures are expected, leave outdoor water taps slightly open to allow them to drip continuously.
Have a fire extinguisher ready to use. Extinguishers should be inspected annually to ensure effective operation. Ask the local fire station for advice about inspections.
Have a back-up plan. Consider alternative living arrangements should extreme weather conditions require emergency action. These include nearby motels, friends, or family. Keep in touch with neighbors and family. Have someone check in daily with a person who lives alone.
Plan for medical needs. Have extra medications available. Identify a pharmacy that can deliver them during inclement weather. Have all medications and dosages written on a pad for easy reference. For anyone with medical equipment such as oxygen, have the phone number of the service and contingency plans ready if evacuation becomes a necessity.
Preparation is the key to remaining warm and safe during winter months. Many of the steps can be handled by most seniors, but family members need to become involved to ensure that these precautions are in place before the temperature drops.