The high energy burden for working households

Posted On: September 22, 2020

High energy burden is often left out of the conversation about housing that is both affordable and high quality. However, energy-efficiency plays a crucial role in housing affordability in Birmingham, Alabama, and other cities across the country. recently published an article about “energy costs relative to pay.” Birmingham (headquarters for Navigate Affordable Housing Partners), was #1 of 25 metropolitan cities with a “high energy burden” for residents.

The article cites a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The report found more than 153,000 Birmingham households have a “high energy burden.” More plainly stated, Birmingham families are paying a larger percentage of monthly income toward utility costs.  

high energy burden

Even before COVID-19, energy bills often strained family budget; however, the pandemic has left millions unemployed or earning significantly less each month. As a result, families are spending a greater portion of their income on energy bills 

High energy burden solutions

ACEEE believes “low-income weatherization” can help reduce high energy costs. Weatherization includes “comprehensive upgrades” like insulation, air sealing, appliances, and lighting. The research estimates weatherization could reduce the energy burden for low-income households by 25%. The benefits here are two-fold, according to ACEEE. 

ACCEE believes these programs will not only reduce high energy burden but also “help stimulate the economy through local job creation and workforce development.

Policies that accelerate investment in, improve the design of, and better target low-income energy efficiency, weatherization, and housing retrofit programs can have a high impact on long-term energy affordability.” 

Building Better 

While the ACEEE report focuses on weatherization, the writers also conclude there is more to be done. 

“Cities, states, and utilities are well-positioned to build on this research and conduct more targeted and detailed energy burden analyses,” they conclude. “Studying energy burden and more broadly analyzing energy insecurity factors are first steps toward setting more targeted energy burden reduction goals and creating policies and programs that lead to more vibrant and prosperous communities.” 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes a step further, suggesting “many local governments work with affordable housing developers to encourage energy efficiency in new affordable housing.” These energy-efficient homes have six features: 

  1. Effective insulation 
  2. High-performance windows 
  3. Tight construction and ducts 
  4. Energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment 
  5. Energy-efficient products 
  6. Third-party verification 

Retrofitting and weatherizing existing homes, especially structures built pre-1980, is essential. Equally important- builders need to build better affordable housing with energy-efficient features that lower the high energy burden of living in that home.  

Lisa McCarroll is the CEO of Navigate Affordable Housing Partners. Navigate is committed to investing in long-term sustainable community development to revitalize communities. McCarroll wants to move the conversation of “workforce housing” forward.


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