Kristin Kalski's home. Inset: Kalski and her son.          

A LIWP Success Story: Restoring a Home—and Family—to Good Health

By Don Knapp
May. 29, 2018

Kristin Kalski's home. Inset: Kalski and her son.

                           

Thanks to FREE home upgrades through the Low-Income Weatherization Program (LIWP), single-mom Kristen Kalski found relief from astronomical utility bills and troubling health and safety issues. Read on to learn how LIWP, which is administered by Build It Green in Los Angeles County and the Bay Area—is changing lives and fighting climate change in hundreds of disadvantaged communities.

Financial Hardship in 2017

Making ends meet as a single mom takes “creativity and resourcefulness,” as Kristen Kalski likes to say. For extra income to help pay the bills, she hosted a foreign exchange student at her home, and she sold postcards while transitioning between jobs. But even for Kristen, a single mother of two children living in LA’s San Fernando Valley, 2017 was a very hard year. Ironically, the center of this hardship was the 3-bedroom home she had purchased to raise her family, but instead had strained her bank account with high bills and compromised her family’s health and safety.

The cascade of bad news began when Kristen’s job selling title insurance transitioned to commission-only. Without a base salary, her monthly income soon dwindled, sometimes as low as $500 per month. Meanwhile, her home’s utility bills soared in the sweltering heat, peaking at $800 in August. Determined to find a better job, she decided to pursue her long-time dream to become a real estate agent. With dedication and nightly study, she earned her license.

Sidetracked by Health Issues

Ongoing health problems hampered her career reboot. “Every few months I was getting really sick. In January I had a terrible flu and bronchitis, and in August I had pneumonia—it was really scary,” says Kristen. Her 16-year-old son was frequently sick as well, and his illnesses were compounded by severe allergies that required medication. “I slowly realized that whenever we would use the furnace or air conditioner a lot, we were getting sick,” explains Kristen. “I started connecting the two.” While it’s difficult to know, in hindsight, if Kristen’s illnesses were definitively caused by her home’s conditions, national studies link health problems with poor indoor air quality—and health benefits with energy efficiency upgrades.*

                           

A Home Riddled with Problems

Kristen’s home was in poor condition after years of deferred maintenance, and she had no financial resources to pay for repairs:

                                   
  • Red-tagged furnace: SoCalGas shut off Kristen’s outdated furnace, citing unsafe carbon monoxide levels and improper ventilation. Kristen ended up turning it back on to keep warm in the colder months.
  • Ancient AC: “The air conditioning worked so poorly that I had to run it all the time to be remotely comfortable in the summer—I couldn’t turn it off,” says Kristen. Her bills skyrocketed.
  • Leaky ducts: Major leaks in the heating and cooling ducts meant that the HVAC system was sucking in dirty, dusty air from the attic and blowing it throughout the house. No wonder her son’s allergies were so severe!
  • Inefficient appliances: Kristen’s older refrigerator was an energy hog.
                           
kristin kalski and her son

”LIWP has made a huge difference for us and I highly recommend this program!“

–Kristen Kalski

                           

LIWP Transforms Her Home

At a real estate training hosted by the nonprofit Build It Green, Kristen first learned about the State of California’s Low-Income Weatherization Program (LIWP), which provides free energy efficiency and solar upgrades to thousands of homes in California’s most disadvantaged communities. Kristen got excited and immediately applied for the program. Synergy Companies, a LIWP-participating contractor, visited her home to assess its needs. They soon began installing a wide range of much-needed upgrades: new central furnace and AC, attic insulation, refrigerator, windows, LED bulbs, and more (see full list above).

Synergy’s goal was to dramatically reduce her energy use and utility bills and create a safer and more comfortable home. “They provided quality workmanship,” says Kristen. “Everyone involved with LIWP was very trustworthy and supportive.” And now, because Kristen’s home uses less energy, that also means it helps California reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change; the energy upgrades to her home—and thousands of others touched by LIWP—collectively make a huge impact on our environment.

Benefits for Her Family

Immediately after the LIWP upgrades, Kristen’s house became dramatically more comfortable—the AC cooled the house quickly, and it stayed cool with better insulation, windows, and eatherstripping. The furnace warmed the rooms, and they stayed toasty. “The best part is that so far this winter, my son hasn’t gotten sick yet, and he’s taking far fewer allergy pills than before,” says Kristen. “LIWP has made a huge difference for us and I highly recommend this program!”

california climate investments | cap and trade dollars at work           CSD | department of community services and development, california | serving low-income families through community partners