Weatherization Offers Solution to Winter's Chills (and Bills)
by Elizabeth Condon, Special to the Capital Sierran
When a WeatherizeDC volunteer knocked on the door of Gretchen Toles' 1930s-era brick home last winter to talk about the benefits of home weatherization, she was already sold on the idea.
"I had made a decision that I needed to do something about the condition of my house," recalled Gretchen. "I knew that I had a lot of issues with losing heat and excess use of various power resources."
Gretchen was searching for an easy path forward to weatherize her home.
In yards and front porches across the city, WeatherizeDC staff and volunteers have been talking to homeowners to convince them to weatherize. From Glover Park and Capitol Hill to Takoma Park, the initiative has been gathering steam since its launch as a six-month campaign in September 2009.
And the numbers are starting to add up: more than 200 homeowners entered the weatherization pathway, which will mitigate an estimated 470 metric tons of carbon (equal to taking 90 cars off the road). Nearly 800 D.C. residents have attended one of 45 energy meetings held in people's homes or community centers.
Over the last year, the Sierra Club's D.C. Chapter energy committee has been collaborating with the organization. "WeatherizeDC's mission and the chapter's goals to promote conservation, efficiency and renewables in DC have led to a good working relationship," said Larry Martin, chapter energy committee chair. "We've worked together on the Sustainable Energy Utility and related energy policy, chapter members have participated in Weatherize DC's door-to-door canvas, and we are coordinating on outreach to other D.C. based organizations to promote conservation and efficiency."
"We often see a lot of light bulbs go off in people's heads when we start a conversation," said Sam Witherbee, WeatherizeDC field director. "It's intuitive. Most homeowners have awareness that ensuring their home is properly sealed and insulated makes good sense. What they're hungry for is information about the process, which measures will save the most money on their energy bills and assurances that the business they'll be working with can get the job done well and on time. A lot of homeowners want to weatherize, but don't know if 'weatherization' means windows, light bulbs or pink insulation."
While a number of D.C. area businesses offer home performance services, Gretchen saw enormous value in working with WeatherizeDC. A program of the nonprofit The D.C. Project, WeatherizeDC (www.weatherizedc.org) conducts targeted outreach to identify homeowners who would like to learn more about home energy improvements. The initiative then connects homeowners interested in weatherizing with one of three local home performance businesses that have been thoroughly vetted by WeatherizeDC. Each is licensed, bonded, insured and BPI certified.
"That additional layer of quality assurance that we deliver to homeowners gives them one more reason to say 'yes' to weatherization. It's exciting to watch homeowners freed up from the worrying that they are accustomed to with these types of projects," said Witherbee.
Each contractor also has signed an agreement to hire D.C. residents from communities of poverty and high unemployment for work. All workers receive certification-based training, a livable wage, health benefits and support for career mobility.
WeatherizeDC tracks each home's progress and staff review all estimates and audits that the firms deliver to homeowners to validate that the pricing is fair and consistent with the industry standard. Although the price tag varies from house to house, weatherization typically costs between $3,000 to $5,800. But when homeowners factor in the savings on their energy bills, many find it a smart investment.
"I've stood on front porches talking to homeowners and turned to see the row of porches stretching down the street," WeatherizeDC Deputy Field Director Winston Lofton said. "You start to imagine...What if we got five homes on this block to weatherize? And what if all of those homeowners talked to their friends, family and colleagues about it?"
It's that vision of the future, one where large-scale home weatherization leads to environmental and local economic solutions, that drives WeatherizeDC staff and volunteers.
And for homeowners like Gretchen who have weatherized, the satisfaction often extends far beyond their immediate circle of home comfort and extra dollars saved on their energy bills. "I'm a big believer in lots of small actions come together to make a big change," she concludes.
What Happened at COP16, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Cancun, Really?
On Friday, December 3rd, 24 Sierra Club volunteers, with help from 350.org's Bill McKibben and a polar bear from the Center for Biological diversity, gathered on the beach in Cancun during the COP16 climate negotiations for a demonstration showing the delegates from participating countries burying their heads in the sand.
Our own Jim Dougherty, chapter conservation chair and Sierra Club director, led the action, which garnered international media attention, and took the photo at right, which pretty much sums up the two-week climate talks.
See more photos, video and blogs on the Sierra Club's Activist Network Cancun Project Page.
Chapter Honors Two D.C. Recycling Success Stories
The D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, the DC Chamber of Commerce, and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington celebrated "America Recycles Day" by announcing that the U.S. Government Printing Office and 1801 K Street are the winners of this year’s America Recycles Day Recycling Recognition Awards.
The purpose of the awards is to recognize those businesses who are leading the charge to make their environmental footprint in the District more sustainable.
During an award ceremony on November 15th at the D.C. Metropolitan Council of Government offices, the awardees were honored for their outstanding efforts in reducing and diverting waste from disposal. Indeed, both winners are recovering 80-90% of their waste for recycling a feat achieved by a minority of businesses nationwide.
The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) has been recycling since 1861. The agency manages a comprehensive industrial and office recycling program that addresses not just waste prevention and recycling, but reducing water and energy consumption, hazardous wastes, and also encourages procurement of recycled content products and renewable resources. In 2009, GPO recovered nearly 5,000 tons of recyclable materials and in 2008 lowered their status from a Large Quantity to a Small Quantity Hazardous Waste Generator, via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) designation process. U.S. GPO's efforts resulted in a nearly 90% recycling rate.
"This award is because of the efforts made by the men and women of GPO during the last 150 years," said Public Printer Bob Tapella. "It is through their actions why we continue to strive to achieve higher standards for sustainable environmental stewardship, which is good business and good government."
Since adopting single-stream recycling, a program that is convenient for the building's tenants, 1801 K Street has improved its recycling rate from 70% in 2008 to 97% in 2009. The property worked in partnership with the City's Department of Public Works, which helped educate their tenants and recommend program improvements.
The building owner, Somerset Partners LLC and Management Agent, Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc. lead the charge in creating one of the most effective recycling programs is the District. However the program would not be a success without the support of building tenants such as the National Council of Architectural Registration Board, Navigant Consulting and Robbins Russell.
According to Gwyn Jones, chapter chair, "encouraging businesses to recycle in the District helps us advance our commitment to promoting sustainability locally and throughout the country."
Thanks to All Who Have Supported the D.C. Chapter
Every year, the DC Chapter comes to you with a request for support in March and every year you have come through for us. We've had some great support and, as your treasurer, I wanted to thank each of you that has donated this year for your part in helping the Chapter do all of its great work. If you've been getting your electronic newsletters and updates, then you have heard about many of the chapter's accomplishments:
- Advocating effective non-auto transportation -- from support for Metro to the new streetcar lines and bike-sharing program.
- Working to shrink D.C.'s carbon footprint through promoting District energy conservation programs, weatherization, ensuring continuation of the Sustainable Energy Utility, etc.
- Promoting recycling among businesses and the city government to increase the diversion of recyclable materials from landfills.
- Protecting and advocating for D.C.'s parklands and rivers.
- Supporting the election and re-election of a green city council, council chair and mayor.
Your donations have also helped us provide support for our staff person extraordinaire, Amanda Brinton. Anyone who has participated in any of the chapter's efforts this year knows how much flair she has shown in recruiting and utilizing volunteers in all of the Chapter's work. Without your help, we'd never be able to retain all of that energy and talent for the cause of a green and sustainable D.C.
We also have an annual Holiday Party with a silent auction that allows attendees to meet their fellow activists, enjoy a great dinner and hear from many of the council members. Attendees also enjoy getting great deals on items donated by Chapter members and supportive businesses to our silent auction. This year, we received donations from Patagonia and Green Plate Catering. In addition, we have items ranging from a photo by Conservation Chair Jim Dougherty to a philosophy lecture series on CD from Julia Locascio, and the ever-popular weekends and weeks at your treasurer's beach houses in Delaware. Their fame is spreading and we had a spirited bidding war this year for a week at the "greenest house in Rehoboth."
It's too late to get in on the bidding for this year's vacation time, but it's still not too late to answer that March mailing before the end of the year. We always hope to better each year's contributions and we're still a bit behind this year. We know it's been a tough year for a lot of folks -- and there are a lot of other places to spend your money. However, if you'd still like to make sure your Chapter keeps doing great work, send your donation to Sierra Club -- DC Chapter, c/o Karen Cordry, 10705 Torrance Dr., Silver Spring, MD. 20902. Thanks... And Happy Holidays!
Annual Holiday Party Spreads Cheer
Over 40 chapter members and friends attended our annual holiday party and dinner on December 6th at Harriet's.
New faces mingled with long-timers, and we were joined by special guests from the D.C. Council: Re-elected councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Phil Mendelson (At-large) as well as Council Chair-elect Kwame Brown (currently At-large) took time out of their busy schedules to visit with us. There was fun with door prizes and the silent auction, of course.
Best of all, it gave the chapter leadership a chance to thank many of the volunteers who have been giving their time and energy to make the District a better place.
Happy Holidays to all of you who have helped us over the last year through your membership, your time, your letters and emails to officials to advocate an issue or program. We wish you a peaceful (and green!) season and year to come.
Manage Your E-Subscriptions Online to Keep Up with Club News and Info
Did you know you can manage the email you receive from the Sierra Club both locally and nationally at any time at www.sierraclub.org?
Just go to the website and click on "About." In the drop-down menu you'll see "Log in or Register." If this is your first time, go ahead and register -- it's easy and it's quick. Once you're logged in, you'll see that you can manage your profile info, which e-info you want to subscribe (or unsubscribe) to and more. If you click on "Update Email Subscriptions" you'll see a list of all e-mail lists and campaigns that you can subscribe to. The ones you already get are checked off. To see local Washington, D.C., Chapter e-lists, be sure to click on the two folders, "Local Community Outreach" and "Local Sierra Club Newsletters."
Simply check the items you want and uncheck the items you don't. You can adjust your settings at any time. Thanks for staying in touch!
Don't miss the 37th Annual New Years Day hike on January 1st, 2011, along the C&O Towpath. Get details about this and other Sierra Club Potomac Region Outings here.
Watch Your Snail Mail -- 2011 Executive Committee Ballot Will Be Arriving Soon
Although we try to limit the number of snail-mail pieces we send each year, a few are necessary to reach all of our members. Within the next two weeks, you should be receiving your ballot for the 2011 D.C. Chapter Executive Committee. Please complete and mail in your ballot promptly. Elections will be closing in early January, and we want your voice to be heard.
Want to Volunteer or Get Involved?
We are always looking for people to help on one of our key campaigns or to support our chapter through membership, communications, fundraising and event planning. If you would like to find out how you can help, contact Amanda Brinton (202-363-4366).