New initiative to bring comfort to the area's chilled residents; Furnaces made available to low-income families


Over the next three years, about 600 furnaces will be donated to some of the poorest residents of Baltimore and surrounding counties.

The program, announced yesterday, is a collaborative effort of state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat; Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.; the state Public Service Commission; Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat; and other state agencies and private companies. BGE is providing $1.5 million -- $500,000 annually for three years -- through its Conservation Home Improvement Program. Participating residents must meet income criteria. For example, a family of four earning $25,056 or less a year would be eligible, said Don Dasher, director of consumer affairs for BGE.

Residents' homes or apartments must be structurally sound. People living in apartments cannot participate unless their landlords agree to have the furnaces replaced and pay 25 percent of the cost. Replacing the furnaces could cost an average of $2,000 to $3,000 apiece, Dasher said.

Residents who have no heat, such as Velma and Louis Weems of Annapolis, whose furnace blew out Jan. 28, will be given priority.

"It just went all of a sudden," Velma Weems said yesterday. "We went five days without the furnace, but we had two electric heaters and some blankets."

The Weemses received a new furnace last Wednesday.

"I didn't know anything about the program until a friend told me about it, and we're very thankful," said Velma Weems.

There are other programs to help low-income individuals replace furnaces and boilers and to weatherproof their homes.

Since Dec. 1, city funds have been used to replace 115 furnaces in Baltimore, said Zack Germroth, city housing department spokesman. Another 40 furnaces have been repaired or replaced through the city's Maryland Energy Assistance Program, he said.

Information: in Baltimore, 410-396-5555; in Baltimore County, 410-285-4674.

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