Energy-efficient makeovers help low-income residents save on their power bills

Teondra Mathews’ three kids like to play in the water when they take showers. She enjoys letting them play, but as any responsible homeowner would, she worries about wasting water.

On Wednesday, Florida Power & Light energy expert Michael Santiago made a change that gives Mathews, 24, more control over the amount of water in her kids’ showers. Santiago fixed an energy-efficient shower head that allows Mathews to flip a switch for more or less water.

The shower-head switch was one of several tweaks made to Mathews’ home during a free energy-efficient makeover provided by FPL. The makeovers are part of FPL’s Power to Save program, which the power company launched last year. FPL, in coordination with the city of Bradenton, identified more than 40 homes in low-income neighborhoods suitable for the makeovers.

FPL hopes to do several similar events throughout the state, FPL senior communications specialist Florencia Contesse said.

The Power to Save program is an all-around win, benefiting customers, FPL and the entire energy grid, said FPL area manager for external affairs Rae Dowling, who is based in Bradenton.

“At FPL, we all know when we all save energy it helps FPL not have to build power plants,” Dowling said. “In addition to helping customers, people keep coming to Florida. If they waste energy, then we have to build more power plants. Let’s not waste and do the right thing.”

Bradenton city councilman Patrick Roff presides over the ward where most of the makeovers happened. The last time FPL did a similar program was six or seven years ago, Dowling said, and it was done in Palmetto. The area chosen for Wednesday’s makeovers was a good fit, Roff said.

“It’s very smart that FPL chose this particular area,” Roff said. “This is some of our oldest housing stock, so it’s going to be the least energy efficient. Coming in here and working in this area is where we can make the most amount of change. The household income is not extremely high in this area, so if they can save money on their power bill, they can buy more groceries, plain and simple.”

Almost a quarter of the residents in the 34205 zip code, which includes Roff’s ward, live below the poverty level, according to the most-recent available U.S. Census data. The Census Bureau sets poverty levels by comparing pre-tax cash income against a threshold that is set at three times the cost of a minimum food diet in 1963, updated annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, according to the Institute for Research on Poverty. The levels are adjusted for family size, composition and age of householder.

During Mathews’ evaluation, Santiago led her around her home near the corner of 11th Street West and 21st Avenue West in Bradenton to make fixes and show her how to make small energy-saving adjustments.

“Him giving me a few pointers I can pass on will save us a lot,” Mathews said.

She lives in the house with her mother and three children, ages 10, 3 and 1, as well as her 1-year-old cousin. Santiago showed her how to clean the vent and air filters on the air conditioning unit and he placed weather seals on the front door. He also did some outside work, took a look at her attic and evaluated the house’s insulation.

Santiago also installed a more water-efficient spigot on the kitchen sink. Mathews said she wasn’t aware the spigot could be removed until Santiago showed her.

“I’ve learned a lot about being a homeowner,” Mathews said.

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday