Infrared heaters offer hope for warmth

By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 05, 2012
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Charles Ogburn is shown next to an infrared heater that helps him live within his disability income of $694 a month.

Even though the cost of heating oil is up and the amount of available government assistance is down 42 percent, there is hope on the horizon. That hope is encased in a heater about the size of a small footstool that can warm a room for about $1 a day.

The infrared heaters have a proven track record of helping stretch the amount of money used to heat a home and are a Godsend for those with limited incomes, said Patsy Dowling, the executive director of Mountain Projects. The heating units cost about $175 each if purchased in bulk, but only donations can be used as government funds are restricted.

Dowling is on the front lines when it comes to understanding the gap between needing needs and available resources. as Mountain Projects is the designated agency through the social services department that doles out available government heating funds.

“These heaters are the way to go,” she said. “We give them out mostly to the elderly and tell them they aren’t for heating an entire house, but only for the room they are in.”

That’s exactly how Charles Ogburn, 58, uses his heater provided through Mountain Projects. Ogburn had surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2005, which left him with impaired vision and no balance. He uses oxygen and an electric wheelchair. Home help during the weekdays, along with a caring group of friends, allows him to live at home.

“I know I’m disabled, but I don’t feel I’m nursing home material,” said Ogburn, a former tobacco and cotton farmer before he moved to Wayesville. He retains his cognitive abilities and spends much of the day listening to news shows on a television provided through his Sunday school class at Long’s Chapel.

Richard Reeves, who spends the year volunteering to cut and deliver wood for Mountain Projects, stops by regularly to stoke the fire and bring wagon loads of firewood into Ogburn’s home. If the wood is near the stove, Ogburn can keep the fire going.

“I try to be as economical as I can,” he said.

It takes some stretching to make Ogburn’s $694 a month disability check cover expenses, and using the infrared heater, as opposed to the hot water baseboard heat, is one way to do it. He figures his power bill increases only about $1 a day using it the way he does.

Reeves has spoken to a number of individuals who have received the infrared heaters. If used as intended to keep just the occupied room warm, the heaters raise electric bills by $30 or so a month, he said.

Filling a gap

Infrared heaters allow those with limited resources fill a huge gap in the heating fund crisis facing the county. Ira Dove, director of the Haywood County Department of Social Services, said federal heating funds trickling down to Haywood County were decreased by 42 percent this year.

The funds must be spent according to specific guidelines on fuel oil and kerosene, both which cost more this year than last year. Couple that with a winter that’s expected to be much colder than last year, and a heating crisis is looming.

“Right now we’re doing OK because we've spent the money and there’s another program that opens in December for a specific population,” Dowling said. “But all who have gotten oil will run out in January, and that’s when things will get difficult."

Because the heaters last several years, Dowling is convinced that plowing money into the infrared heaters will help turn around the crisis that surfaces each winter in Haywood when funds are gone and people are cold. It takes donations for that to happen, money that doesn’t have to fit into a regulation under the state and federal codes.

Warm in Maggie

It was through donations that Mountain Projects was able to provide Charles Waugh, 84, in Maggie Valley with one of the heaters.

“If I used the electric baseboard heat, it would easily be between $300 and $400 a month,” Waugh said of his power bill.

Waugh, who retired in Haywood in 1995, said he isn’t used to living on a limited income, but his days of prosperity ended with the real estate crash.

“I’m living off Uncle Sam right now,” Waugh said of his monthly Social Security payment. But if better days return and he’s able to find backing for a project on property at the old Turnpike Hotel site, “I’ll be walking into Mountain Projects with a great, big check.”

To help out

Champion Credit Union has agreed to contribute up to $10,000 to help ensure people stay warm this winter.

All funds gathered during the "Share the Warmth" campaign will go to the Mountain Projects and earmarked  to provide heating assistance to residents of Haywood and Jackson counties.

“With state funding cuts, it is projected that Mountain Projects will be unable to help the residents who need help.  Champion Credit Union will match each dollar donated, up to $10,000," said Mike Clayton, credit union president.

This means there is  the potential to raise as much as $20,000 to help with the campaign.

For more information, contact Noralynn Grindstaff at 593-9411 or send her an email at ngrindstaff@championcu.com.

Another way to help buy infrared heaters is by contributing loose change to the Million Coin: Cash Conquers Cold campaign. Individuals or groups can deposit the coins in a box at the Waynesville Police Department on Main Street designed to hold 1 million coins.

Contributions made to Haywood Christian Ministry are also used to help pay heating bills.

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