Westport family’s home to be warmer this winter, thanks to “safe & sound” grant

One local family is looking forward to a warmer, safer home this winter, thanks to a Wells Fargo/NeighborWorks America “Safe & Sound” grant, with a little help from the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County, known as HAPEC.

Andrew and Laurie Harrington have known for a while now that they faced some challenges with their old house. The family’s home has stood along Main Street since the late 1800s, fronting on Route 9N which winds down into the historic village on Lake Champlain. The couple bought the home eight years ago and raised their children there. The well-worn old house, probably among the oldest in the county, had weatherization needs as well as structural problems which presented safety issues.

And there was the matter of the heat – during the winter months, water would freeze in a glass left overnight in the master bedroom in the back half of the home, part of a poorly executed addition many decades ago. Andrew Harrington said it was cold in the back of the home all winter, despite the fact that his baseboard electric heaters were constantly running.

“There was very little insulation anywhere in the house,” Mr. Harrington said. Disabled now, the Westport resident is studying accounting and finds a little work helping with tax returns. Unable to meet the cost of an insulation overhaul, the Harringtons faced high heating bills every season.

Other serious needs were evident; the chimney was, in Andrew’s words, falling down. The porch on the front of the house was caving in. The basement stairs had missing steps. Significant rehabilitation work was needed, but the family simply could not afford it.

“We were on a waiting list for a weatherization grant, and it had been years. Then, HAPEC called this summer, and from there the whole process was simple,” Mr. Harrington said on a recent autumn afternoon. The paperwork, he said, was not complicated.

“We went over the work write-up with Bruce (Misarski) from HAPEC and the contractor, and agreed on all the work in advance,” Harrington recalled. There were substantial tasks at hand: leveling and stabilizing the front porch, replacing damaged and rotted decking, and repainting the wooden elements. The chimney was to be repointed and a UL-listed chimney liner installed. The attic was to be insulated, windows were to be repaired and the basement stairs fixed. The rear addition needed to be extensively rehabbed, roofed and sided. There was also some plumbing, electrical and flooring work to do.

The Harringtons had high praise for the contractor, Elizabethtown-based Stevens Construction, who did the job this summer, saying the crew was prompt and friendly.

After three weeks of hard work, all the tasks were completed, and the family couldn’t be more pleased. Andrew said they are looking forward to significantly lower heating bills this winter. The porch now stands up straight, and the home is both safer and sturdier.

“I feel a whole lot better about the house. We’re well up to code now,” Mr. Harrington said as he surveyed his kitchen, which the family had recently repainted themselves. “It’s nice to see it all come together.”

The Harringtons say they enjoyed working with HAPEC and their contractor, and would recommend both to their friends and neighbors in Westport.

“This project really made a difference for us. It was a completely positive experience,” he recalled.

HAPEC is a HUD-certified Housing Counseling Agency and is a charter member of NeighborWorks America. Based in Elizabethtown, HAPEC offers homebuyer classes, credit counseling and other assistance. Visit www.hapec.org  for more information.