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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Finds Energy Efficiency Upgrades Ease Strain of High Energy Bills and Thermal Discomfort in Low-Income Families

Low-income families bear the brunt of high-energy costs and poor thermal comfort from poorly maintained apartment buildings. To study how energy efficiency upgrades could help these households, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health surveyed residents in a low-income community in New York City. They found that while energy efficiency upgrades varied significantly by ownership status, low-income single-family homeowners reaped the greatest direct benefits. Results overall showed that respondents experienced improved thermal comfort, enhanced health and safety and reduced energy costs as a result of the upgrades.

[Photo: Dr. Diana Hernández]

This study examines a full range of potential benefits associated with energy efficiency among low-income homeowners, tenants and landlords. Findings are online in the journal Energy Research & Social Science.

“Overall, energy efficiency upgrades are a promising intervention to mitigate the energy and structurally related challenges facing low-income households,” said Dr. Diana Hernández, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health. ”However, results also illustrated that weatherization alone was insufficient to address all of the housing comfort and safety issues facing low-income households.

Dr. Hernández and her research team surveyed 20 heads of households as well as landlords of buildings in a variety of housing types that had recently undergone upgrades. Most participants identified as Hispanic or Latino (80 percent), and more than half of participating households had at least one child under 18 years old living in them. Many participating households were also inhabited by elderly residents who often suffered from chronic health conditions exacerbated by energy insecurity.

Results revealed different experiences of low-income renters compared to homeowners.  Renters cited greater physical comfort and less economic stress; homeowners realized lower heating costs, an increase in property values, and an improvement in landlord/tenant relationships.