Construction crews work to replace windows at one of the 44 units at the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society’s Columbus Park social housing community, where aging units have seen electricity bills as high as $350 for a month because of poor insulation. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Renovations to save on low-income heating bills

Some units at the Columbus Park social housing in Penticton have seen $350 bills for a month

Baby, it’s cold outside — and for residents of 44 households in the Columbus Park social housing project, that can mean hundreds of dollars for a month of heating.

Some units in the community report bills of up to $350 for a month, with all units using electric heating in aging buildings. To help mitigate that, the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society, which oversees the housing project, is dropping more than half a million dollars to improve insulation.

“It’s wear and weather,” SOSBIS executive director Linda Sankey said, pointing to the edge of a door that appeared cracked and crumbling. “The project was built in 1992, so we’re coming up on … nearly 30 years, 25 years of wear.”

The project, expected to cost just over $500,000 will replace all of the windows and patio doors in the social housing community, which totals 44 units with between six and nine windows each.

Related: Lobbying for retrofit program to help homeowners save money

“We’re doing it specifically for energy and cost savings for the occupants who are responsible to pay their own utility costs here,” Sankey said.

“We found during the three years that we’ve owned the project there are significant electricity bills that the tenants are paying, so we’re doing our best to try to offset those costs for them.”

A $350 electricity bill for one unit in a month is close to what some of the tenants pay for rent, which makes the affordable housing “seem less affordable,” Sankey said.

“The project is for people on low incomes, so generally a family is earning less than $25,000 a year to be considered to get in, so that is a significant hit on their monthly budget if they have to pay that kind of utility cost,” Sankey said.

“We were finding out because people were having a difficult time making their rent, even being an affordable rent such as these, and then when you find out the reason behind that, it’s the utility costs, it’s like ‘OK, well let’s see what we can do about that.’”

Related: SOSBIS new owner of low-income housing

Sankey said the organization got some windows that would help keep the warm air in during the winter season and keep the hot air out during the summer, on advice from FortisBC, adding that SOSBIS is taking advantage of the energy company’s rebate program for renovations to save energy.

Sankey said it’s hard to say at this point how much the renovations would hopefully cut on electricity bills, but said they will be monitoring it.

“We’ve asked if we can have some tenants to volunteer for us to be able to have a look and compare the difference in their bills from before to what the new bill will be after the (renovations), from the same time last year.

“We had a pretty cold winter last January, too, so we’re thinking it’s going to be good to compare to this year to see what the difference is.”

Related: New fridges for old at Columbus Park

The organization replaced all of the roofs in the community in 2015, and in 2016 they replaced kitchen countertops and flooring on the main floor, with some work also being done more slowly on other areas of the house, including gradual replacement of kitchen cabinets.

Window and door replacements began late last year and are expected to run through the month.


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