Having your heater break down during freezing cold weather can be both frustrating and expensive, especially for low-income families. The Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia (ECA) says it wants to make getting that busted heater fixed a little bit easier and a whole lot cheaper for Philly homeowners through its Emergency Heater Repair Hotline.
The ECA Heater Repair Hotline is a year-round program that assists low-income homeowners in Philadelphia County that are in need of immediate, minor repairs to their heating systems. The program uses a combination of public funding sources and a partnership with the City of Philadelphia to provide up to $2,000 in repairs at no cost to residents.
The ECA Executive Director Liz Robinson said the hotline gets especially busy during extreme cold weather; weather that puts a beating on many older heating systems.
"In the kind of weather we’re seeing, particularly extreme cold temperatures, the phone just rings off the hook," Robinson said. "These very old heating systems sometimes fail as a result of extreme weather. So, our crews are bustling all over the city to try and help people out."
Using a staff of 12 heating system mechanics and 26 subcontracted mechanics, the ECA repairs or replaces more than 5,000 heating systems through Heater Hotline calls each year. According to Robinson, the hotline is staffed by a live attendant from roughly 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. on weekdays. Callers may reach a voicemail on weekends and overnight, but hotline staff typically respond to messages within one business day.
The Heater Hotline staff is trained to prioritize calls based on the vulnerability of the caller. Robinson says many of the calls to the hotline come from elderly people who live alone, parents with very young children, and people who are sick or infirmed. These callers, Robinson said, are treated with the highest priority and often have their requests addressed immediately.
The ECA also provides a number of other services to help low-income families stay warm during the winter months while also conserving energy. The ECA’s Crisis Heating is a seasonal program funded by the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that allows ECA mechanics to repair or even replace heating systems for low income residents. Applicants must apply to the Crisis program in person at 1348 West Sedgley Avenue.
Residents in need of low- to no-cost repairs to their heaters should call the ECA Heater Hotline (215-568-7190) to apply. The application process can usually be completed over the phone.
According to Robinson, the Heater Hotline staff is still clearing a bit of a backlog of requests leftover from last week’s snow storm and preparing for a potential influx of calls tonight and tomorrow morning when record freezing temperatures are set to move-in.
NBC10 First Alert Meteorologist Tedd Florendo says by Tuesday, the mercury will be in the low teens in Philadelphia, accompanied by strong winds--gusting up to 40 mph--and wind chills as low as -15-degrees.
Robinson said her team is dreading the deep freeze, but they’ll still be manning the hotline and restoring heaters for residents as needed.
“We’re trying to catch up from the weekend and trying to catch up before the weather hits tomorrow. We’re dreading tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be brutal,” she said. “[The hotline], it requires a real vigilant response every day and we work very early mornings and late nights to help as many people as we can.”