Energy Use in Older Homes

Yesenia was born and raised in Chicago. She is a licensed home daycare provider and has raised four children of her own. She has been living in her home in Chicago Lawn since 2006.  Yesenia’s home is commonly known in Chicago as a workers cottage. Built between the 1870’s and 1910’s, this style of house is one of the more affordable types of homes in Chicago. However, because workers cottages are some of the oldest homes in the city, they can be challenging to maintain. Trying to heat or cool an older home with its original systems can use a lot of energy. Yesenia experienced this in her home and was resourceful in creating strategies to help stay comfortable and keep her bills low. Despite her best efforts, Yesenia’s older home still caused her to have outrageously high gas bills. 

Energy Burden and Energy Insecurity

When a household like Yesenia’s biggest living costs are their energy bills, they have what is known as a high energy burden. Energy burden is the percentage of household income that goes towards energy costs. Similar to energy burden is energy insecurity, which is the inability to meet basic household energy needs. Energy insecurity is a term that means much more than paying or not paying bills, and speaks to how people live their lives. Energy insecurity not only impacts a household financially, but can affect their overall well being. When people experience chronic energy stress like Yesenia did, it can deteriorate their physical and mental health.   

Removing Toxins in Older Homes

Older homes can impact health in more ways than one. In addition to creating energy challenges, older homes can often harbor toxic materials such as lead, asbestos, or air pollution, which can contribute to severe health issues like asthma. Yesenia was incredibly proactive about getting help for her family and the children in her daycare. When she learned about a special lead abatement program that replaces old windows, she didn’t hesitate to see if her home qualified. Even before having her windows replaced, Yesenia reached out to assistance programs in the area for help with her bills.  

Energy Assistance Programs

Stories like Yesenia’s are not uncommon. Fortunately, she was able to access the help she needed. She applied to every program and opportunity that came her way. But many families can’t get assistance even if they qualify. LIHEAP, for example, which is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, typically only helps about 15% of Illinois households who qualify because funding gets used up so quickly. And many other families don’t actually know where to go to get the help that they need.