It is a late January morning on Spokane’s lower South Hill and two of SNAP’s most reliable Weatherization workers are braving the cold to make sure a local family is protected from the very same elements.
Dave Jacobs and John White bring over 50 years of combined experience to projects like this one. A young family with limited income was referred to the Weatherization program after receiving Energy Assistance through SNAP last fall. The home, built in 1946, is drafty in the winter and like an oven in the summer, according to homeowners Scott and Tiffany.
“We’ve lived here three years,” said Tiffany who said she is looking forward to the improvements, especially with two young kids in the home. “We were interested in keeping the warm in during the winter and the hot out during the summer.”
Tiffany and Scott first found out about SNAP through a relative who had utilized the agency’s Home Repair program to improve indoor air quality and address moisture problems in her house.
Dave and John took four days to address the project which included adding insulation to the attic, putting in half-a-dozen new energy efficient windows, adjusting several doors and adding weather strips to cut down on energy that was escaping through various gaps, leaving the family with a chilling effect on their budget and thermostat.
“Our power bills can get pretty high, especially in the winter,” Tiffany said.
The project also brought a new carbon monoxide detector to the home. Weatherization work includes the standard of adding smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when houses are without such devices.
John estimated the home will go from an energy efficient level of around 30 percent to approximately 80 percent after the upgrades.
“The added attic insulation is likely to be the most cost-effective improvement and will certainly reduce their utility bills and improve comfort,” said Chris Davis, SNAP Housing Improvements director.
Another byproduct of the work has to do with the family now being able to open their windows, many of which had been sealed shut. In 2016, SNAP weatherized 245 homes for energy efficiency, thanks in part to support from the state “Matchmaker” program, established in 1987 as a way to allocate over $13 million in oil overage settlement funds.
While the oil money was used up in a few years, the state legislature has authorized use of state capital funds for the program each biennium since 1991. According to the Washington Department of Commerce, Matchmakers “increases resources for low-income home weatherization by leveraging local matching dollars from utilities, rental owners and other services. Washington communities receive Matchmaker funds when they provide a dollar-for-dollar match.”
In 2015, the legislature approved expanding services to include improvements to homes with residents who suffer from breathing problems like asthma. SNAP’s Healthy Home Repair program is an example of such an approach. Recently, an announcement was made that the Matchmaker program will be renamed “Low-Income Weatherization Plus Health.”
In the case of Scott and Tiffany’s project, Matchmaker funds were part of the solution, transforming an energy inefficient home into a safer, more secure and cost-efficient dwelling that no longer acts as a sieve in extreme weather.
“It is amazing what SNAP does for people,” Tiffany said. “There is no way we could have afforded to do all this.”
SNAP Weatherization crews always number two to a team in case help is needed putting up doors or windows. For Dave and John, this day started out at 6:30 a.m., shoveling snow out of a parking lot to free up their service truck and trailer. Like diligent mail carriers, the pair can be found on a work site regardless of sleet, snow or rain.
“We’re out in all kinds of weather, it could be cold like this or very hot in an attic,” said Dave. “The winter is always the toughest because it’s wet, icy and there’s snow. A lot of times, we have to shovel out the windows to get to them. You just deal with it. We live in the Northwest. We have four seasons.”
John said the most rewarding part of his work is “being able to make homes more secure and safe, and helping people save some money.”
Dave, who began working with SNAP in 1985, has run into raccoons, skunks, squirrels and more during three-plus decades in the home repair field. He jokes that he stays thin “by working in attics during the summer.”
“It’s been an adventure,” Dave said. “The thing I like the most is just taking care of people and their homes. It’s a good cause. We’re making a difference out here.”