Energy Navigators Warm Homes and Hearts

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Tompkins Weekly 3-27-19

By Maggie McAden

Sharon Guardiola did not expect that a phone call inquiring about LED light bulbs would lead to three days of free insulation work on her home, increased home comfort, and lower heating bills.

Guardiola — who owned a cleaning business for 45 years — lives in Enfield in a double-wide mobile home with her husband. She first became connected with Martha Fischer, and the Get Your GreenBack Tompkins Energy Navigator Program, when she called Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County looking for the bulbs. When Fischer delivered the bulbs, she also began working with Guardiola and helped her apply for a number of free programs, including the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and EmPower New York. Both of these provide free energy-efficiency solutions to income-eligible renters and homeowners, such as the installation of high-efficiency lighting, attic and wall insulation, and the replacement of energy-inefficient appliances. 

Energy Navigators like Fischer can help facilitate that process.

Martha Fischer. Photo provided.

The Energy Navigator Program is designed to help community members learn about ways they can reduce their energy use and energy bills and use renewable forms of energy to heat and power their homes.

The first step of the navigation process involved Fischer visiting Guardiola at her home where she helped her fill out an application and send it into Tompkins Community Action, which coordinates the WAP program and also does the EmPower New York program. The process began in October of 2018.

“She said ‘Sharon this is a must,’ and God bless her, she filled out everything,” Guardiola said.

Within two weeks, Guardiola was notified that she was eligible for work to be done on her home under the EmPower NY program. Her home had already had work done under WAP some years ago and was no longer eligible.

After that, an employee from Tompkins Community Action came to her home and conducted an energy assessment to discover any air leaks or gaps in insulation. Guardiola said Fischer also visited during the audit to make sure she was comfortable, helping her out every step of the way. Based on the audit a scope of work was prepared, which Guardiola approved, and then work was scheduled.

She said that as a result of the program, her home was insulated underneath. The energy program also insulated her water pipes, added a CO2 detector and smoke alarm, and installed a new dryer vent. The work occurred over the course of three days in October, and Guardiola said she feels very clear differences in how warm her home is.

“My water never froze this year because they wrapped the pipes,” she said. “My heat, I keep it at 70 degrees, and it’s very nice in here. I’ve had to use less fuel, and it’s very warm.”

Sharon also said that when she was having problems with her CO2 detector, she contacted Danielle Harrington from Tompkins Community Action. She said that it was promptly replaced.

Through the Heating and Cooling Assistance Program (HEAP), another New York State-funded energy program, Guardiola was also eligible to have her furnace cleaned for free.

HEAP can help to pay for utility bills, repair and replace heating equipment, and provide air-conditioning for people with certain medical conditions.

Helping out other homes

Guardiola also went to the landlady of her mobile home park and recommended that she pay into the energy program so that other mobile homes in her community would have access to similar benefits. She said Fischer helped get her landlady connected to the right forms and people so that other people could be helped in similar ways. Fischer said she has been to eight or nine residences in the same mobile home park.

“I want to tell everybody it’s an available program, it’s free, and it’s a beneficial thing that people aren’t even aware of,” Guardiola said.

She said there can be barriers to accessing the benefits of programs like EmPower New York because there is often a lot of paperwork — something Fischer helped her navigate.

“If it wasn’t for Martha, I wouldn’t realize this energy thing,” she said. “I snuffed it off the first time she told me about it. ‘Nah, I don’t want to get involved and give all my paperwork,’ but then I realized ‘You know something? This is good.’ And I told my landlord and I told people around here in the park and others that this is a good program. It’s going to help you. You just have to fill out the applications.”

Energy Navigators benefit

Fischer — who has worked at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the past 25 years — has been volunteering on and off with CCE since 2008. She first got involved with the Energy Navigator Program when she heard a CCE staff member talk about helping Dryden residents access weatherization programs. She said she completed the training to become an Energy Navigator after it became available to people outside of the work week.

She said she finds the volunteer work she does rewarding because of its immediate impact.

“I knock on a stranger’s door, and, when the residents hear of the weatherization services available to them, they are usually quite welcoming,” Fischer said. “I’m happy to help people fill out the application — it can be rather daunting, but together we get it done. And it’s really gratifying when the home gets the energy upgrades it needs.”

She also finds that being an Energy Navigator is her way of doing her part for the environment while simultaneously working directly with people.

“Climate change is such a huge issue, and it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference,” Fischer said. “I feel like I’m making these little small differences and making a difference in people’s lives.”

Find out more about the Energy Navigator Program. Contact Karim Beers, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins coordinator, at or (607) 272-2292 x 186 with any questions.

Maggie McAden is an intern with Get Your Greenback Tompkins, a community-initiated and community-supported campaign to help residents reduce waste and save money.

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