Ronald and Lisa Suddarth are celebrating their 35th anniversary this month in the comfort of their Fairfax home. The home isn’t new–it was built in 1979 and they’ve lived there since 2006–but the comfort is since they’ve ended their four-year stint without heating or air conditioning.

When their HVAC unit broke down in 2018 under warranty, the service people who came out said it was too old for repairs since it dated back to 1988. A replacement was their only option, but they couldn’t do it.

“We couldn’t afford to have things done and I let things go because I had to use my money for … the important things: health, health insurance, food, utility bills,” Ron said.

Lisa was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and has been disabled since 1996, with growing medical issues in the last few years, so they have been strained to manage their health. They went without heating or AC for four years while prioritizing medical needs.

The house retains heat and that made the summers increasingly insufferable. With COVID, Ron lost his job which was supporting them both. “It has been really hard,” Lisa said.

“It got to the point with health issues and our finances where we didn’t have any choice… [Lisa] couldn’t go any further without heat and air conditioning,” Ron said.

Lisa saw an ad for the nonprofit Rebuilding Together, which volunteers to repair homes for those in need. They reached out to Rebuilding Together early in the year and heard back.

The Rebuilding Together volunteers installed handrails and fixed some things in the house. They directed the Suddarths to Dinh Tran with Tran Energy Services for their HVAC unit.

Tran Energy Services does energy audits in partnership with Dominion Energy for their EnergyShare program. Since it began in 1982, “EnergyShare started out as a heating program … and has grown into a weatherization and upgrade program,” said Matthew Love with Dominion Energy.

Tran assessed the Suddarths’ home and said the HVAC unit had to be resuscitated to qualify for a replacement. Since Tran’s brother is a master repairman, “They actually took our [HVAC] unit to his shop and he fixed it and brought it back the same day,” Lisa said.

After hours of work, the HVAC was alive and could run for some time while they qualified for help through EnergyShare. They were scheduled for repairs by the time Dominion Energy was celebrating 40 years of EnergyShare with their 40 Homes in 40 Days weatherization series.

The Suddarths’ home was one of the 40 homes, weatherized and revitalized on Sept. 16. A team of volunteers from Dominion Energy and Community Housing Partners worked on several projects inside and outside of the house.

“Many of the people here are always looking for volunteer opportunities and enjoy [it],” Love said. Beyond replacing the HVAC, they insulated the attic and pipes, replaced the heat pump, completed ductwork, and installed LED bulbs among other things to make the home more energy efficient in the long run.

They also repaired and painted the deck and fence and did plenty of yard work by weeding, mulching, and planting flowers. “We have tools on some of the trucks, but I brought my saws, drills, hammers, [and] nails from home… One of the guys, instead of standing on a shaky ladder, set his bucket truck up,” Love said.

“This is the first time in my whole life and Lisa’s whole life that we have ever … had to reach out,” Ron said. “We’ve never asked for any help. We’ve done everything on our own.” Ron directed the volunteers and helped. “He was there smiling the whole time,” Love said. 

Discovering and utilizing the resources that got them the help that they needed altered Ron’s idea of community. “You’re not alone out here… There are a lot of people who want to help you,” Ron realized.

“Try and find help,” he advised. Where they started out asking for help is not where they ended up. They found out about more community programs than they realized existed for years.

The experience was impactful beyond their home, as Ron was inspired to find ways he could volunteer. Whether it’s working with your employer the way the Dominion Energy volunteers did or seeking out opportunities in retirement, Ron and Love recommend finding ways to give back to the community that supports you.

“Life is not about how much wealth a person has but what you can do to help other people,” Ron said. “It would be my pleasure … to give back to other people because of all the help I received.”

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