“When I was growing up,” shared Amy Cook, “our vacations as a family were always camping vacations. And I always loved the woods, always loved going to summer camp and that kind of thing.”
So when Amy saw a small cabin surrounded by nature that was just outside of Boone, N.C., she knew she had found the one. From the original pine panelling on the walls to the cabinet hardware in the kitchen, she said “it felt like home instantly.”
“It’s just very quiet and peaceful, and when I sit out on my deck, I just look out at the woods and hear the birds,” Amy added. “It’s been a very comforting place to live.”
One thing about her new home hasn’t been so comfortable though.
“It was a very cold winter,” Amy explained, referring to the first cold season she spent in her new house after moving into it in June 2017. “It was not comfortable at all, really, but my electric bills were still really high.”
Despite her efforts to save energy by keeping the thermostat low and wearing a hat to bed, Amy’s February electric bill was over $300. “It was a shock,” she said. “I didn’t think the bills were going to be as much as they were.”
Amy’s house, like others along her gravel road, was built as a summer residence, evidenced by the faded instructions on how to winterize the house written on the entrance to the crawlspace. This means the home was wholly unprepared to take on winter in the mountains.
Since Amy is only able to work part-time, she couldn’t afford the upgrades that her home would need to make it more bearable and affordable in the winter. She also wasn’t interested in taking on a loan. “I just knew that before the next winter, I needed to figure something out.”
Thankfully, she heard about our High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest while at her job at the Watauga County Public Library and was ultimately selected as the grand prize winner.
“I heard about the contest,” recalled Amy, “and I thought, if I don’t apply, I’m certainly not going to win.”
The High Country Home Energy Makeover contest awarded the grand prize winner $4,000 worth of energy-saving home improvements. Five finalists also received a free energy audit to help pinpoint problem areas in their families’ homes. (Read the other finalists’ stories.)
Before being chosen as the grand prize winner, Amy was selected as one of the finalists to receive a home energy audit from local contractor John Kidda, owner of reNew Home, Inc. “It was so fun!” said Amy of the audit process. “I’m kind of a nerd, so I loved knowing all the information… That would have been worth it to me alone, just to get that audit and then have an idea of where to go from there.”
After thoroughly analyzing how Amy’s cabin uses, and loses, energy, John determined that upgrading her heating system from the current baseboard heaters to a highly efficient mini-split heat pump would save her the most money on her energy bills and greatly improve the comfort of her home. “I was thinking, if I could just get storm windows the problem would be solved,” Amy explained how the audit process changed her mind. “I didn’t understand that [a new heat pump would have a greater impact] until John and I got to talk and he explained everything.” The heat pump will also be able to cool her home and could supplement or replace the current window AC unit.
Improving your home often feels like a huge undertaking, especially when considering how to finance it. “I feel like [Appalachian Voices has] come alongside me, and I’m not having to deal with it by myself,” said Amy. “I’m really grateful for the whole thing…I know I’ve said grateful like 55 times, but I’m just really grateful.”
Amy is looking forward to having lower electric bills next winter after the new heat pump is installed. “It’s going to make a huge difference in quality of life,” she expressed. “I hope to be in this house forever, so that’ll be great to just be comfortable here… It’s probably going to seem like a new house!”
Amy isn’t the only person in the High Country struggling through the cold winters with astronomical energy bills. Thousands of our neighbors spend more than 20% of their income on energy costs each year, largely due to energy wasting homes and appliances.
Some electric co-ops in the region, like Roanoke Electric Cooperative in eastern N.C., have decided to help people like Amy afford energy-saving home improvements by adopting financing programs for energy efficiency that are accessible for everyone, including renters and low-income households.
Despite widespread need in the region and strong co-op member support, Blue Ridge Energy has decided not to implement a similar program even though there is federal funding available.
Learn more about our Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign and contact Lauren Essick, our NC Energy Savings Outreach Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-262-1500 to learn how YOU can demand better clean energy programs from your electric co-op.