By Joel Hall
Standing under an oak tree on a crisp fall afternoon, Sherita White, a certified nursing assistant, recalled the cold winters when her home on Bretton Drive in Rex wasn't centrally heated.
"For two years, I haven't had any heat," said the single mother of two and caretaker of a three-year old granddaughter. "I've been using space heaters."
With no weather stripping on her doors and air traveling in and out of her home freely, White was spending a large portion of her paycheck on basic utilities.
In honor of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's recent proclamation, designating Oct. 30 as Weatherization Day in Georgia, the Georgia Environment Facilities Authority (GEFA) made an example of White -- in a good way -- making her home into a walk-through showcase of weatherization.
In different stations set up inside White's home, GEFA showed spectators simple ways to cut back on their energy bills, such as insulating exterior-facing walls with cellulose, finding and sealing leaks, installing insulation and door covers in the attic, using energy-saving florescent light bulbs, and insulating pipes with foam to keep heat from escaping.
Several local aid workers and state dignitaries showed up for the demonstration, including Clayton County Community Services Executive Director Charles W. Grant, State Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), and Cherry Ivey, Weatherization Program Manager for the state of Georgia.
"The things that can be learned from this demonstration can be applied to any household," to make it safer and less expensive to live in, said Shane Hix, communications and marketing director for GEFA.
GEFA Executive Director Chris Clark said the average household spends 14 percent of its annual income on energy alone. The home improvements his agency completes with the help of federal grants often mean major savings for clients, he said, many of whom are elderly, disabled, or living below the poverty line.
"Part of the funds come from federal appropriations, and you have to fight every year to make sure that people know it's important," said Clark. "We've been spending a lot of time here talking about water efficiency," in regards to Georgia's recent drought. "We also need to start talking about energy efficiency."
"It's not uncommon for us to cut power bills in half," said Bill Beverly, a weatherization expert from Waycross, Ga. "Our clients can use that money on food and medicine."
The demonstration focused not only on making houses more energy efficient, but safer. In one station, a diorama illustrated how an improperly sealed garage or chimney can expose families to deadly levels of carbon dioxide.
"If the furnace isn't drafting properly, it can suck [carbon monoxide] back inside," said Jay Stewart, a weatherization expert from LaGrange, Ga. "If that goes on for too long, the people in the house die. We try to seal the house up, help them save some money, and help them live longer, too."
White said she was appreciative of all the improvements GEFA made to her home, but most of all for the new furnace that they installed in her basement.
"I've priced them over the years, and they cost four or five-thousand dollars," said White. "Who has that kind of money lying around? I would definitely recommend this to other people."