“We have 13 rescue cats,” says Cindy Mullins, from her tidy, surprisingly cat hair-free home in North Sydney. “We were running out of names, and we had none yet for this one,” she adds, pointing to a gray short-hair sitting on the floor, precisely in the middle of the living room. “So that became her name, Noneyet.” Cleo, Lady, Rascal, Jackson and Mr. Nibbles hold court on various chairs and sofas. Other cats lounge in lazy shafts of afternoon sun.
Her daughter brought the first stray home many years ago, starting them down a path where there’s always a cat underfoot. “I feel so bad for these abandoned animals. Some of them were abused, some I didn’t even think they’d make it. But they did, and they curl up to you and almost say thank you.” The pet-loving daughter, now in Alberta, contributes to the upkeep of this cat sanctuary.
With an energy in her 60s that many younger people would envy, the native of North Sydney and her husband George, a transplanted Newfoundlander from Cornerbrook, live in a house that is “probably 90 or 100 years old.” Both are retired – Cindy was a nursing aid and George worked at car dealerships. Both are still active and volunteer at nursing homes. “The Alzheimer’s wing can be tough,” admits Cindy. “After we couldn’t take care of them here anymore, my parents had a room at a nursing home. My dad had bad arthritis and was blind, and my mom had dementia. He had a mind but no body, and she had a body but no mind. So the two of them together made one.”
The Mullins are as delightfully friendly as every cliché says Cape Bretoners must be. However, as emotionally warm as the home is, the physical house could be very cold. “We had space heaters all over the place, and I was worried about the wiring. And our electricity bills were very high.”
And the cold didn’t just wear on the nerves and make life uncomfortable. It causes physical pain for Cindy, who has been living for over a decade with inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. “It’s in my hands, my legs, in my spine. And let me tell you, it doesn’t like the cold. Some nights, I seize up, and the pain is so bad.” George is also dealing with health concerns including high blood pressure, diabetes and bad circulation in his legs.
“But we could be hooked up to something in a hospital, so we don’t complain. It’s a health issue and you just deal with it.”
They had the house insulated ages ago, but it was an older style of insulation that hasn’t stood the test of time. It settled and there were lots of drafts through the walls, floors, ceilings. “It was so cold there’d be frost on the cups,” says Cindy, as we (her two guests from Clean Foundation) settle down at the kitchen table. “Oh, speaking of which, would you like some tea and squares? And you can’t say no.”
“We’re on a fixed income,” says George, “so it was hard to keep up with heating bills. We’re very sensible – except for the cats, and our daughter helps out with them – and we don’t spend on things we don’t need.”
And then George heard about HomeWarming while looking at the Nova Scotia Power website. HomeWarming offers no-charge energy assessments and home upgrades to income-qualified homeowners. Clean Foundation looks after electrically heated homes, while Efficiency Nova Scotia takes care of houses with non-electric heat sources. The program is supported by Nova Scotia Power and the Province of Nova Scotia.
Yet when George told Cindy about HomeWarming, she didn’t believe it. “I almost asked ‘What are you smoking?’ because nothing’s for free. But he had already applied, and am I glad he did. They called us, did the assessment, and then the work began, bing bang boom.”
“All exterior walls were insulated from the outside, the attics and knee walls were insulated from within using spray foam and cellulose, and gaps were sealed” says Zenon Pilipowicz, the Clean Foundation Energy Advisor assigned to the Mullins’ home. “An oil hot water tank was replaced with a more efficient electric tank, and to be safe, we replaced the old knob and tube electrical wiring.”
“The Mullins now feel much safer in their house after the electrical upgrade, and the house is significantly warmer and 34 percent more efficient.”
“I’m amazed really,” says George. “Sometimes if we put our thermostat up to just room temperature, we have to turn it down because the house gets so warm now. Heating bills have really come down, basically in half.”
For Cindy, the warmth has brought both emotional and physical relief. “You’ll never believe how much stress was on us. The bills, the cold, the wiring that made me nervous. And the arthritis is better this year because the house is holding the heat in. It means so much to us.”
It wasn’t just the work that impressed them. “The people you sent, they were so kind and respectful,” says Cindy. “They had plastic to cover everything, they took off their boots, they took all their mess with them, they vacuumed.”
“You know the biggest complaint I have with your program? The boys were done too fast. That’s how nice they were. I miss them.” Cindy quickly became a surrogate mom to the contractors, making sandwiches as she good-naturedly teased them about girlfriends.
Cupping a warm tea in her hands, Cindy recalls some of the challenges after she had to stop working because of her health. “I had my parents here for years and looked after them best I could. I had two kids in college. Financially it was a struggle, so HomeWarming seemed to be too good to be true, that’s just what I thought.”
“But you know what? It wasn’t.”
“I’m grateful to all the people involved – Nova Scotia Power, the government, Clean, Efficiency,” says George. “I’ve told, I don’t know how many people. The application is easy, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
A cat’s loud cry interrupts us. “What’s wrong? Oh, the door’s closed and you don’t like it!” Cindy gets up to let Rascal into the kitchen. She pauses at the fridge door, covered with photos of her 33-year-old son and 26-year-old daughter.
“I know life can be tough. There are nights I wake up in so much pain but I don’t let it get me down. I try to be active, to take care of my cats. And there’s no words to describe the kids I have, and I don’t say that just because they’re mine. We skype and call each other all the time, and we’re expecting our first grandchild.”
“We’re blessed, George and I.”
She lets the cat scurry in before turning back to us. “And one of you should eat that last square, no sense putting it back in the fridge.”