Making Homes More Energy Efficient Together


Prescott speaking with one of the homeowners. Image credit:Heather Moyer

My colleague Heather Moyer recently spent the day with a crew of volunteers who weatherized the home of a low-income senior couple in Baltimore. I want to share her story and find out whether any Treehugger readers have volunteered in a similar way. I also want to make you aware of the Rebuilding Together organization, which leads projects like this around the country—possibly near you—so you can see about getting involved.It helps if you know what a caulking gun is, but you really don't need any home-improvement experience in order to volunteer. Just roll up your sleeves and prepare to work—and smile.

Heather was invited to participate in Rebuilding Together Baltimore's "National Rebuilding Day" by her friend Prescott Gaylord, founder of Baltimore Green Construction. Prescott loves to make homes and buildings green, which is important because buildings contribute to more than 40% of U.S. global warming pollution. Read Heather's story, and then share yours!

From Heather Moyer:

I'd helped with Rebuilding Together projects in Baltimore in previous years, but never one focused on energy-efficient home upgrades.

Prescott was thrilled about this focus: "That is the work that I am most interested in -- and I liked the chance to apply the knowledge and skills to their good cause. It also appeals to the same part of me that is a Sierra Club member."

Prescott and Alice Kennedy, who works at Prescott's other business, City Life Realty, worked with Rebuilding Together Baltimore (RTB) to do an energy audit on one home before build day. It was the home of Edith and Carl Smith (last name changed for their privacy). The audit showed exactly what needed to be done to save the Smiths money on their energy bills, which Mrs. Smith said had been skyrocketing in the past few years.

"The mission of (RTB) is to help low-income homeowners through renovation and repair work on their homes and to 'keep people living in warmth, safer and independence' while building stronger and better communities in Baltimore City and Baltimore County," explained Alice.

"A lot of the homeowners are seniors who are on fixed income with little to no money, help or ability to do things around the house, so not only were we helping them accomplish tasks, we were also helping them to save money which in turn could help them stay in their homes longer or help pay for other items such as prescription medication, food, or transportation."

So last Saturday rolled around and a team of volunteers showed up to help the Smiths fix their home to save them money and to save energy.

Prescott had us break up into teams to do various tasks. Some of us insulated hot water pipes in the basement, others put an insulated jacket on the hot water heater, and others sealed cracks in the furnace duct work. Prescott said these acts may seem small, but they save a lot of money and energy.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, the water-heater jacket alone reduces heat loss through the walls of the tank by 25—45 percent, saving about 4—9 percent of one's water heating costs. Not bad!

I took the dirty task of crawling up under rafters in the basement to foam areas where the house met the foundation -- another place Prescott said is prone to excessive energy loss. I also foamed the cracks around the front door to reduce drafts.

Other volunteers -- some great Baltimore Police Academy trainees -- replaced the old drafty basement door with a weather-stripped one and weather-stripped the home's main front and back doors.

The Smiths were happy to see us bustling around their home, with Mrs. Smith even helping us in the basement for a time. Mr. Smith is a Korean War veteran, so helping them out felt even more like giving back.

Prescott, Alice and all the volunteers agreed that the day went great. Everyone got a lot done and the Smiths were very appreciative of the help.

"I think the best part was seeing the smiles on the homeowners' faces and knowing how appreciative they were of what we were there to do and accomplish," said Alice. "I was explaining to the homeowner about some of the ways weather-stripping, pipe insulation and caulking can help and she was so receptive and excited that they may save money on a monthly basis."

Alice added that the day's work was also part of a larger mission and message.

"Saving energy is not just good for the environment, but it helps homeowners save money and helps communities stabilize and grow," she explained. "A lot of lower income families and homeowners are not aware that there are small, inexpensive steps that can be taken to help them save money on their monthly utility bills. Hopefully, by helping one family, it will start a trickle-down effect and other families can be helped by learning and hearing about the small steps we took."

Prescott added that many of the tasks we did in the Smith home can be done easily by most homeowners. He's excited to do the National Rebuilding Day again next year, and I'll be there to lend a hand!
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Thanks to Heather for sharing. Treehugger readers, we're interested in hearing from you - anyone else done this before?

More posts on "weatherizing" old homes.
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Tags: Communities | Do It Yourself | Energy Efficiency

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