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John McMillin: Heating less brings a family closer

John McMillin • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:58 PM

Maybe it’s because I’m older, but this winter seems particularly brutal, and my tolerance to the cold certainly isn’t as good as it was just a few years ago. I consider myself lucky though, in that I’m able to keep warm and pay my utility bills.

Working at United Way of Wilson County, we get a lot of calls about where to get help for utility bills. The simple answer is, we don’t have enough help to go around. I want to give praise for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp.; most people don’t realize that they pour thousands of dollars back into programs administered by several of our partner agencies and other areas to help offset such emergencies.

I’m going to limit my discussion to electric bills, but the information holds true for utilities in general. In weather below freezing, not having a sustainable heat source is life threatening, and will snowball into other problems like frozen pipes, family sickness and more. It’s expected most people will suffer from difficulty in paying their utility bills at some point in their life. So, if you find yourself in this situation, you’re not alone.

I have found many people know they will have trouble paying their utility bill before it comes due. Talk to the utility company staff as soon as possible, if this is the case, and explain what the problem is. They may be able to offer some advice or advise where to get help. Should you try to ignore the problem, and you are unable to pay your bills, you will be without that service. Utility companies aren’t here to provide service for free.

While many of you may know how to save on your electric bill, there are many more who don’t. Limit the number of rooms you heat. It may not be convenient, but it will make your family closer. Maybe the kids can sleep in one room, or, if it’s really cold, maybe the whole family can sleep in one room. Dire circumstances call for drastic action.

Space heaters are not efficient or safe. However, if it’s all you have then use them sparingly and wear sweaters and thicker clothes. Seal air cracks around windows and doors with old blankets or even tape or plastic wrap temporarily, but make sure rooms aren’t completely airtight. Insulate as much as possible. Cut back the temperature on your water heater since this can use a lot of energy. Disconnect or power down anything you don’t use all the time, such as extra lights, televisions and computers.

There isn’t a lot of help to go around, no matter what the circumstance is. There are hundreds of people struggling for any number of sad, unfair and unfortunate reasons. Our partner agencies will help all they can, but if you’ve have had consistently high electric bills you’re going to have to do your best to reduce that cost. 

Finally, I can say I’ve been there. I still do my best to cut back during this harsh weather but do spend more time together as a family and that’s something money can’t buy.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County. Email him at jmunitedway@bellsouth.net.

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