Home Uplift Gives Customers a Hand Up

James Pardue is a little frustrated with the black car parked in front of his Antioch home. He purchased the used vehicle weeks ago to fix and resell, but he can’t get the engine to turn over. Resigned to worry about it another day, he heads inside his home. His steps are deliberate and surefooted.

As he crosses the threshold of his home and into the living room, he calls out in his raspy voice, “Alexa, play music.”

“Playing Steely Dan,” responds Alexa, the voice-activated virtual assistant that’s also the home’s thermostat.

The rock music competes with the 24-hour cable news coming from the TV in the living room, but it has turned Pardue’s mood around. When he’s happy, he will sing to himself. If friends have stopped by, he will likely encourage them to join him. He just turned 60, but he has the lightness of a much younger man.

“It’s comfortable for me to have my own space,” says Pardue with a smile.

He’s been in the same house since 2006. Most of the furniture hasn’t moved around much during that time, and that’s for practical reasons. Pardue was diagnosed with a damaged optic nerve that caused him to go blind when he was 3 months old. He navigates his world with a lightness of touch, and at times with a white cane and something he calls his “third eye.”

“God blessed me with no physical sight, but he guides me spiritually through my third eye, which is the spiritual side,” he says, placing his finger in between his eyebrows.

Pardue says his parents didn’t treat him any differently from his siblings, and that upbringing contributes to his overall mindset. “I grew up just as a normal person, says Pardue. “I was a go-getter, so I would go get it.”

Pardue has run a telemarketing business and a ministry, and he buys and sells cars. He feels uncomfortable sitting around and waiting for someone to help him. He is fiercely independent. So when his friend, Darlene, told him about TVA EnergyRight’s Home Uplift and how the program allows folks with limited means to make energy-saving home improvements, he didn’t see it as charity.

“Home Uplift is someone going the extra mile for someone else because they know there may come a time for all people when they face their own obstacles,” says Pardue.

“Home Uplift has always been about giving people in the communities we serve a hand up, not a handout,” says Bethany Kitch, Home Uplift program manager for TVA EnergyRight. “Two of the top priorities for EnergyRight are health and safety. A well-insulated home reduces the risk of illness, which means more days at work and fewer days at the doctor's office. That's one of the many reasons Home Uplift fits directly with our mission of making lives better for the people in the Valley.”

His thermostat was losing him a lot of money

Derryberry’s Heat & Air has partnered with TVA EnergyRight and Nashville Electric Service on several Home Uplift projects. Vice President John McEachen recalls meeting Pardue for the first time. “When I pulled up to his house, he was standing at the end of the driveway waiting on me and yelled out, ‘Hey John.’ He walked me around the house, and he was just a really nice guy.”

During one of the home audits, a contractor noticed the temperature on Pardue’s thermostat was set to emergency heat. McEachen says it can be a helpful setting when temperatures dip below 20 degrees. Emergency heat provides supplemental heat in addition to the output from the heat pump—or, if the heat pump is malfunctioning, emergency heat can be the primary source. But McEachen warns it can be costly to run.

“I would have to ask somebody what the temperature on my thermostat is set to,” says Pardue. “And I would push the buttons on the thermostat to make it comfortable. But sometimes, I would forget where I set it at.”

McEachen says a team from EnergyRight, NES and other contract partners decided to install a smart thermostat for Pardue so he could control the temperature with his voice. “We figured it would help him know what the temperature is in his home at all times,” says McEachen.

NES has partnered with TVA EnergyRight on Home Uplift since 2018. Sylvia Smith, vice president of customer services of NES, says the program has helped the utility serve a diverse community. “Our customers are everyone from senior citizens and transplants to major corporations. We serve urban and rural Nashville, along with six surrounding counties. With Home Uplift, we’re able to keep customers who have been with Nashville Electric for decades and help them stay in their homes and also afford the energy efficiency renovations they need.”

“Local power companies like NES are crucial to the Home Uplift Program,” says Kitch. “They understand their communities, and they know what their communities need. The program participants are their neighbors, family and friends. The Home Uplift program is close to the local power company's hearts.”

Home Uplift has given Pardue greater independence and the confidence to make energy-saving choices for years to come.  He jokingly says that if it could help him fix his used car, that would be icing on the cake.