Dominion Virginia Power volunteers

By CATHY JETT THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Armed with caulk, weather-stripping and box after box of LED light bulbs,Dominion Virginia Power volunteers spent Monday weatherizing Loisann's Hope House on Lafayette Boulevard.

Their goal is to help the organization, which provides shelter for homeless mothers and their children, conserve energy and lower its electric bills.

"We've had a pretty longtime relationship with Dominion with annual donations," said Executive Director Lisa Crittenden. "It evolved into a great opportunity."

Dominion Virginia has been providing customers facing a personal or family crisis with assistance in paying their electric bills through itsEnergyShare program since 1982. Last September, it committed $57 million to expand the program through 2019. EnergyShare now provides utility bill assistance to veterans and the disabled in need, as well as weatherization, education and outreach.

"What we really wanted to get to was the root," said Ken Barker, Dominion Virginia's vice president of community partnerships. "If we can help people lower their bills, they won't need as much assistance."

Dominion Virginia's EnergyShare program works through community organizations such as theRappahannock Area Agency on Aging to identify those who qualify. Since September, 200 single-family homes and 1,400 multi-family residences across Dominion's service territory have received the utility's help in reducing energy consumption, according to its July 1, 2016 annual report.

Locally, 12 single-family homes have received weatherization assistance and a 40-unit multifamily building is getting it, as well, said Donald Thomas, who manages the EnergyShare program for the RAAA.

EnergyShare also works with providers to make weatherization improvements to facilities housing homeless families and veterans. Thomas contacted Crittenden and told her that she should apply.

Loisann's Hope House has been hard-pressed to pay its operational expenses since its federal funding was cut, she said. It is in the midst of a campaign to raise $150,000 to help cover those costs, which include about $650 a month during the winter on electricity alone for its houses at 900, 902 and 904 Lafayette Blvd. Electric bills climb to around $1,000 a month during the summer.

Crittenden applied for weatherization assistance and Dominion Virginia sent out a team to look over its houses to see what needed to be done. A team of Dominion Virginia volunteers arrived at 10 a.m. Monday to do the work, and EnergyShare staff set up a booth outside one of the buildings to show those living at Hope House and in the community simple steps they can take to reduce their energy consumption.

A 60-watt incandescent bulb, for example, lasts 1,2000 hours and costs $328.59 a year to operate, according to a poster at the booth. A 6.8 watt LED, which produces the same amount of light with much less heat, lasts 50,000 hours at an annual cost of $32.85.

The Dominion Virginia volunteers had expected to replace about 50 bulbs with LEDs at Hope House, but ended up using 75 of the energy-efficient bulbs. Other steps including caulking windows and doors, adding weather-stripping and door sweeps, and making sure the heating and air conditioning unit at 904 Lafayette Blvd. was working correctly. Volunteers also installed faucet aerators to reduce water consumption.

Such steps can reduce electric bills by 10 to 15 percent, according to EnergyShare data. Crittenden said that she'll be tracking how much Hope House will save on its utility bills.

"We think it's going to have a strong impact," she said.

Thirteen families currently live at Hope House, and the mothers were shown what they can do to reduce energy costs when they and their families move into their own home. They were also given a kit of weatherization supplies, and their children got colorful packs containing fun things for summer, such as bubbles and water guns.

All the children that Hope House helps and are attending summer camp at the Ron Rosner Family YMCA in Spotsylvania County also got backpacks filled with sunscreen, beach towels and other camp supplies.

That's not all the work underway at Loisann's Hope House.

Volunteers from the Catholic Archdiocese of Fairfax are also helping with projects such as installing flooring all this week, and another team of Dominion volunteers will be there in a couple of weeks to do install erosion barriers around the playground area and spruce up the area where recycling bins and trash cans are stored.

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