Monday, June 30, 2008

Left Out in the Cold by the Weatherization Program

Don't get me wrong, I think all this sudden (and shall we say a wee bit late) emphasis on energy conservation is a very good thing indeed. Who can argue with bulking up the existing weatherization program or the brand new energy rebate program? As someone who has lived in a number of totally leaky buildings out here in 99709, I can attest to how much LESS one can spend on keeping the home warm when it's not all rushing out the windows, cracks, roof, etc.

But sadly, many of us out here in CabinDwelling land are going to fall through the cracks of the programs as they currently exist.

At right, above: The exterior of the 30 year-old cabin I rent. Insulation was at one time provided by the sawdust now visible between the shrunken boards. After 30 some cycles of freeze/hot, the vapor barrier has been reduced to a bunch of free floating pieces of plastic; the sawdust has, over these years, settled considerably. Thank the gods/desses for shrinky plastic for the windows and the Blaze King wood stove.

Sadly, the Energy Rebate program is not available for homes that are not occupied by their owners. That means landlords have no incentive to improve some of the crappiest housing out here.

If you are, like myself, a member of the great (frequently) unwashed masses living out here, there is a good chance you rent a dry cabin. Meaning no running water except that in the intermittent stream out back, no flush toilet, no dishwasher, no washing machine... you get the point. This is not the land of apartment complexes, although there are a few duplexes, eight-plexes and the like.

Some facts about the state of housing in 99709, at least as of the 2000 Census:
  • Number of occupied housing units: 24,032
  • Number of those occupied by their owners: 15,895, 66.1 %
  • Number of units occupied by renters: 8,137, 33.9 %
  • Percent of rental units built between 1980 and 1990: 31.9 percent
  • Percent of rental units built before 1980: 53.8 percent
  • Median date of construction of rentals: 1979
Most of us who rent out here do so for economic reasons: rents are cheaper out here than in the city. We're university students, or your folks without a lot of income, or folks paying off school or medical bills or a plain bad run of luck, or your folks like me who are gradually saving up for a down payment to some day buy a house. And I mean some day, the bubble hasn't burst yet on the housing market.

And make no mistake. We're getting what we can afford to pay for: older structures of shall we say questionable and/or creative construction. We're talking six inch log cabins, or some old building that the landlord bought cheap and dragged onto the property, or those 'mushroom' cabins so-named for the way large numbers of them seemed to crop up overnight as would be landlords started the trend called 'cabinfarming' (back when land out here was still cheap. )

At right: The underside of a cabin I once rented here in the Goldstream Valley, January 2006. After the dog's water bowl froze (in the kitchen) the landlord and I eventually struck a deal where he bought materials and I did the work and took my pay in rent.

The insulation and general heat retention qualities of these units are generally poor at best, even in the more recently constructed buildings. Most of the structures were built a time when we still operated on the premise of forever cheap oil - meaning they are heated solely by the ubiquitous Toyo stove. And why would the owners spend more on renovation or construction when, almost without exception, the tenants pay for the fuel??

Unfortunately, many of us won't be able to get help from either the AHFC Weatherization program either. The Weatherization program is meant for low income people, which is fine, but if your combined household income is over $57,000, you can't qualify. Not to mention the fact that funding is limited and competitive so a person has to get in while the program has money each year.

Even were my landlord able to get a rebate for bulking up the cabin, at this point, demand far exceeds our supply of energy raters. I called several on the off chance that the rules had been amended to apply to rentals. The first rater I spoke to said the earliest appointment for the rating (a mandatory step in order to qualify for the rebate later) was October 8. The message machine at another announced that they were no longer taking phone calls for ratings due to demand and one ought to call back in late August.

What I'm saying is, we're overlooking a huge percentage of the folks out here - and if we're serious about conservation (and let's not even get into the environmental aspect of wasting less oil today) - we need to bulk up these programs even further.


Ishmael said...

You point out a few flaws in that system. Sounds like a lot of government, pardon me, "gummint" programs where they're massaged to death by folks who want to get the best deal for their focus group and screw the rest. Whenever I want a good laugh I look at the FDA (yes, agriculture) list of which fishermen in Kodiak get farming grants; It's all the highliners! Crewmen, small fishermen with no staff, and those without the political connections to even know about them, all lose out.

Can you make the Toyo run on cooking oil, or is that out of the question where it's 50 below half the year?

CabinDweller said...

Ah, biodiesel. I've really thought about that one, but haven't followed through really - problem would be, I think, keeping it from turning solid when it gets cold. That and supply.

If I lived in the Lower 48, I'd totally be thinking about doing biodiesel for a vehicle.

As it is, it is firewood for me. I can keep the cabin comfy with about 100 gallons of fuel oil and about 4.5 cords of wood. (At least, last year I did.)

Good thing is, the landlord is thinking about upgrading the cabin, but has other stuff to fix here first.

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