One might say that COVER Home Repair and its companion, the COVER Store in White River Junction, are among the original recycling centers in the Upper Valley. With a broad mission “to foster hope and build community in the Upper Valley,” COVER has found its niche offering home repair and weatherization programs for income eligible homeowners. Founded in 1998 with just two individuals, COVER has grown substantially over its 23 years, and the passion for COVER’s enduring mission still fuels the many volunteers and staff.
Helen Hong is COVER’s new Executive Director, recently appointed after many years as a volunteer and six years as a member of the COVER Board. Helen describes COVER’s most recent efforts at expanding the reuse and recycling efforts that provide many of the materials that fill the store and go into a typical home repair project. “We recently held a ‘Stuff A Truck’ event at Hanover High School where we put out a request to the Upper Valley community for garden & construction tools,” explains Helen. “Part of the advertising for the event emphasized the idea of giving old tools another life instead of tossing them into the landfill.” Helen notes that one of COVER’s primary values is to “tread kindly on the earth.” Fortunately, this goal aligns with Helen’s personal values as well. “This is the only place I can keep coming to that gives me hope and a sense of purpose. This is where I can be human, and where there is no division between my work and personal values.”
COVER’s many volunteers share Helen’s sense of purpose. “There are a lot of enterprising individuals who are part of our team,” says Helen. One volunteer focuses on collecting scrap metal from appliances that cannot be resold and taking them to a metal recycling center. Others manage the extensive bookstore to maintain a high-quality selection of books, which can help shoppers avoid getting books through the mail. A former lawyer, now a woodworker, helps with repairing and pricing fine furniture for resale, including a broken grandfather clock that was repaired and re-sold. Gently used mattresses are re-sold which helps individuals purchasing new mattresses reduce the environmental impact of returning their old mattress after buying a popular mattress in a box.
Revenues from the successful COVER Store support the organization’s home repair work, offering an ever-changing mix of donated home building materials, furniture, cabinets, appliances, housewares, tools, books and just about anything that anyone working on home improvements might need. COVER’s $800,000 budget is funded through COVER Store sales as well as generous contributions from individuals, businesses, and foundations.
Local contractors also find useful building materials for their projects, and the building that houses COVER benefits from energy saving donations as well. “We had a very generous donation of solar panels,” says Helen, “and fortunately we have someone on staff who used to install solar panels, so we are trying to figure out how to add them to our roof. We’re also shifting from using oil to heat pumps.”
In 2018 and 2019, 15 home repair and 10 weatherization projects were accomplished in the Hartford area, with several projects in Quechee previously. During the pandemic, COVER temporarily shifted its operation to Do-It-Yourself windows and door kits for weatherization projects, allowing homeowners to install their own air sealing materials. COVER uses a blower door test to measure the air leakage in a home before and after every weatherization project and has seen substantial savings in fuel consumption and heating costs after weatherization improvements are completed. “All of this work – building ramps, roofs, and weatherization projects – are just a means to fostering hope and building community,” says Helen.
In addition to weatherization projects, COVER has been exploring ways to make mobile homes more energy efficient. Mobile homes are often the only affordable means of homeownership for a person with limited economic means. Unfortunately, mobile homes, especially older ones, are not built with energy efficiency in mind. As part of a pilot project, COVER has partnered with Vital Communities to frame and insulate the skirting and roof of mobile homes. COVER staff will be collecting data to determine how much fuel savings is achieved, but there is no doubt that the savings in terms of gallons of fuel and dollars – will be significant. “Net-zero homes for everyone would be a great thing some day, but for many homeowners a mobile home is the best that they can afford. This pilot project supports affordable homeownership by insulating the roof and underbelly of a mobile home, thereby increasing the comfort, efficiency and affordability of one’s home,” says Helen.
Volunteer Rich Acker, on the COVER scene since 2016, points to reuse and recycling as a primary motivation for joining the volunteer ranks not only at COVER, but at other Upper Valley organizations as well. When a project is complicated, chances are Rich Acker is the volunteer who gets the call. “Reuse and recycling have been my philosophy throughout my career, and it’s one of the reasons I volunteer for COVER. One of my hobbies is to put something together that wasn’t there before using materials that come into the store.” One of Rich’s creative reuse specialties is restoring bicycles that have either been donated or recovered at yard sales to get them usable and street worthy. “I do bicycle repair at home because I have a shop at home. I do the same thing with furniture and clocks,” says Rich, a former master electrician and retired Director of Facilities at both Kendal at Hanover Senior Care Facility and the Montshire Museum. “Long ago I learned never to wear good clothes when I visit people I know. Something is always broken someplace,” muses Rich, who helped convert to LED lighting at the COVER Store. When he volunteers on a home improvement project, engaging the homeowner is important. “We want the homeowner involved in the process, making lunches, swinging the hammer, or a member of the family swinging the hammer.”
Board President Kevin O’Hara, of the Hartford-based construction company O’Hara and Gercke, has been drawn to the reuse and recycling efforts of COVER since he began donating materials from his company’s building projects around the Upper Valley decades ago. “Our involvement with COVER was in trying to keep good material out of the landfill and see if it could be beneficial to somebody. I was very much on board with what COVER was doing philosophically, basically helping people be warmer, safer, and burn less fuel.” Early on, Kevin and his business partners established a relationship with COVER and sent them photos of materials from moving and demolition projects that might be sold to support COVER’s home repair and weatherization programs.
Kevin knew from his company’s work the positive impact fixing air leaks can have on a home’s longevity, and how that contributed to reducing the overall effects of global warming. “It’s nice to be getting this kind of repair and renovation to other members of our community. COVER fills a real need in the Upper Valley for housing repair and there is no shortage of business – we typically support safety, health, warmth, and air quality improvements,” says Kevin. Often the homeowners decide to volunteer at the store, and that enhances the community aspect that’s important to COVER. Kevin’s unique position in the homebuilding industry allows his team to keep an eye out for potential donations of materials right from the start of a new construction project, as well as contribute time and skills to building projects. “All three of our project managers are in tune with what COVER does, so they are regularly evaluating the potential for recycling materials.” A recent donation of cabinets from Crown Point Cabinetry in Claremont, N.H. and possible agreements for bulk purchasing of expensive lumber are in the works.
COVER’s operation is growing and filling up the available space in White River Junction, so finding new uses for donated items is vital. Helen Hong envisions COVER Home Repair and the COVER Store continuing its work for many years to come. “I think recycling and reuse are fundamental to us as an organization.” And fortunately for Upper Valley homeowners and passionate advocates of reuse and recycling, COVER’s practice of bringing together volunteers and homeowners in fellowship and collaboration to complete urgently needed home repair projects is here to stay.
For more information about how to donate materials or volunteer, contact COVER Home Repair at 802-296-7241 or visit their website, www.coverhomerepair.org.