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May 01, 2009

Maryland Volunteer Day Includes Energy Efficient Home Improvements

This past weekend I (a Sierra Club staffer in DC) had the fun opportunity to help out a friend (and Sierra Club member) do a great volunteer project in Baltimore, Maryland: Energy efficient home improvements for a low income homeowner as part of the Rebuilding Together's "National Rebuilding Day."

You see, my friend is Prescott Gaylord, founder of Baltimore Green Construction, and he just loves to make homes and buildings green. Another friend helping to organize the day's event, Alice Kennedy, is from Prescott's other business - City Life Realty. Alice and Prescott have done the National Rebuilding Day for a few years now with Rebuilding Together Baltimore and were thrilled this year when their aim of trying to make a house greener lined up with exactly what Rebuilding Together wanted to start doing: energy efficient home upgrades.

Photo 043
Volunteer Amy Sens (left) stands with Alice Kennedy and Prescott Gaylord.

"We realized there was a natural fit for our Green Realtors to help Rebuilding Together Baltimore (RTB) with their new energy efficiency program that was being rolled out as part of this year's build day," said Alice.

Prescott was thrilled to be able to combine all their goals in this project. "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."

Alice and Prescott worked with RTB to do an energy audit on one home before build day - 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.

Photo 044
Homeowner Edith Smith talks to Prescott about her energy bill.

"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 (including yours truly) showed up to help the Smiths fix their home to save them money and to save energy.

Photo 013
A volunteer insulates a hot water pipe.

Prescott had us break up into teams to do various tasks. Some of us insulated hot water pipes in the basement, others put a 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.

Photo 008
Prescott explains the work we'll be doing in the basement.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, the hot 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!

Photo 033
Volunteer Amy Sens tackles the task of putting an insulating jacket on the water heater.

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 very prone to excessive energy loss. I also foamed the cracks around the front door to reduce drafts.

Photo 011
The insulating foam is the white icing-looking substance by the upper 2x4.

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.

Photo 038
Gary Officer, national president and CEO of the Rebuilding Together, chats with Mrs. Smith.

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 weatherstripping, 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."

Photo 015
The day's volunteers, including our great Baltimore Police Academy trainees.

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!

(All photos taken by Heather Moyer. More photos taken by others may be added later.)

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