Mary Ellen's Blog: Making Homes Eco-Friendly and Economical


I hope that wherever you are right now is cooler and less humid than it is here in Washington, D.C. The air is so thick outside that just walking down the block can be exhausting. Many of us find relief in air-conditioned offices and homes, but not everyone has this luxury. Even for those of us who have amenities like a modern climate control system, keeping the A/C on is sometimes accompanied with the guilt that natural resources are going to waste for our comfort. Not to mention, cooling a building can get extremely expensive during the summer months.

Of course, there are many ways to save money by saving energy and conserving natural resources. Ideally, everyone would employ energy and cost-saving measures to heat, cool and light their homes and businesses, but many people simply don’t have the knowledge or resources to do this. It’s a big task to educate the public about ways to save electricity, and it’s an even bigger task to make sure that people of all backgrounds and income-levels have access to newer, more efficient appliances and fixtures, but Corps are up to the challenge

Dozens of Service and Conservation Corps throughout the country operate energy efficiency programs. These programs look different from one Corps to next, but they follow a similar design: Corpsmembers educate homeowners and renters about simple ways to save energy and money, and often provide the tools and services to make light fixtures, appliances, windows and HVAC systems more energy efficient. The end result: homes use less electricity; families save money; and a cohort of young adults enrolled in Corps programs have the credentials and experience to pursue careers in green industries.  



Home performance testing by The Sustainability Institute in Charleston, SC.

 

In Charleston, South Carolina, The Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps trains young adults in building performance while simultaneously offering home weatherization services and energy-efficient upgrades to low-income households throughout Charleston County. Corpsmembers learn green building techniques and weatherization skills, visit the homes of qualified residents to conduct performance diagnostics tests, and then apply their skills to make the quality home repairs and upgrades that lead to lower energy bills. The program, which is funded through both private and public dollars, fully services more than 25 homes a year. Families often see more than a 30 percent reduction in their electricity bills, and Corpsmembers leave the program with new credentials to add to their resumes. In fact, one Corpsmember even went on to start his own weatherization business.

In Baltimore, the Project Lightbulb program, operated by Civic Works, sends Corpsmembers into low and moderate income homes in select neighborhoods to provide residents with information and free supplies to increase home efficiency and reduce energy costs. Corpsmembers install CFL light bulbs, low flow faucet aerators, and a low flow shower head. They also insulate the home’s hot water heater and accompanying hot water pipes, and offer residents helpful tips to reduce energy-consumption. So far, over 4,000 Baltimore City households have benefited from the program.

In New York City, Green City Force Corpsmembers focus on increasing energy-savings in Housing Authority properties. Four days a week, Corpsmembers participate in environmentally-focused service projects ranging from painting rooftops white to decrease indoor temperatures, to visiting low-income residents to discuss their eligibility for free Energy Star appliances and other state-managed energy efficiency programs. One day per week, Corpsmembers participate in Green City Academy, an academic and technical training program through which Corpsmembers prepare for college earn the certifications necessary to do entry-level energy efficiency work.



Solar panel installation by KUPU in Hawaii.

 

There are many other Corps throughout the country operating similar programs to reduce energy consumption and conserve resources. Some Corps install solar panels, some install water-efficient sinks and toilets in low-income homes, and some Corps build rainwater collection systems to bring natural irrigation to parks and farms. The best part about these improvements is that they’re made possible by dedicated young Corpsmembers. Buildings and communities become more efficient and sustainable, resource usage and utility bills go down, and a population of young adults learns important technical skills, gains self-confidence, and prepares to become the next ‘green workforce.’ When Corps have the support to operate energy and resource efficiency programs, everybody wins.