Energy audit helps save woman's life

January 3, 2013 7:36:34 PM PST
An elderly Sebastopol woman could have died if it had not been for a conscientious contractor. Unfortunately her troubles didn't end there.

This one could have been tragic. The women went from one dangerous situation to another and that's where we got involved.

Jo Ellen Kelly treasures the little things she has in life such as two prized cats -- Puss C Willow and Cokillo -- that keep her company in her Sebastopol home. Her award-winning doll houses are also among her most valued possessions. She even appreciates the energy efficient light bulbs she got from the CARE assistance program.

"You may qualify for energy saving," said Kelly.

It was during a routine energy audit of her home that a contractor discovered a major problem.

"The furnace and water heater were leaking carbon monoxide and natural gas big time," said Kelly.

She had lived in her home since 1960. The furnace was over 60 years old and the water heater 40. A PG&E crew arrives two hours later to immediately disconnect both the water heater and furnace, leaving her without heat or hot water.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to death so what we recommend is that you have devices in your home that can detect high levels of carbon monoxide. There are carbon monoxide detectors," said Brittany McKannay from PG&E.

A week later a contractor sent out by PG&E came to her home.

"Took one look at it, 'Oh, this is too old. Oh, there's not much we can do. This is too much work. It's not in our budget. Sorry, Mam. Good bye,'" said Kelly.

By this time, temperatures in the Sebastopol area were beginning to dip. ABC7's weather team tells us the low at nearby Santa Rosa Airport hit 39 degrees on October 21.

Kelly began using her oven to supply additional heat. Even the burners on her stove helped. By November 10, temperatures hit a low of 30 degrees. She called the senior center, the CARE Program and non-profit groups. No one had an answer for her.

"Finally in desperation I wrote to 7 On Your Side," said Kelly.

We contacted PG&E. It turns out there was a simple solution that unfortunately wasn't so simple. Kelly qualified for a free brand new energy efficient water heater and furnace from CARE. But there was a big hang-up.

"We had appliances that had asbestos. We need to make sure that when asbestos is removed it's removed safely by a certified contractor. This specific contractor wasn't able to do that," said Brittany McKannay from PG&E.

So the situation remained unresolved while everyone worked through the issues and Kelly tried to survive the cold winter without heat and hot water.

"It got really bad around here until I could actually see my breath in a couple of rooms," said Kelly.

But finally after two months, the new furnace and water heater were installed with PG&E footing the bill for the asbestos removal through its CARE Program.

"To me, it's the most wonderful, exciting Christmas present I think I've ever got," said Kelly.

We're excited for her.

We have information on the Care Energy Assistance Program here: