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Weatherizing public housing proves good deal all around

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ASHEVILLE — Carl Johnson's summer of 2010 was hotter than most.

On top of the heat wave Asheville experienced, Johnson spent many a day crawling into the attics of Asheville's public housing complexes to seal up cracks and crevices. A few days, the mercury soared to 136 degrees, Johnson said, but it was worth the effort.

“We really have had compliments from people letting us know they can feel a difference,” Johnson said.

The work of Johnson and many others on the unique weatherization project will keep people warmer this winter, save millions of dollars in energy costs and dramatically cut electric, water and natural gas usage.

Johnson was a member of a labor crew working for Green Opportunities, an Asheville nonprofit that trains disadvantaged workers for green jobs in energy efficiency and alternative energy, and does community education work. Green Opportunities teamed up with the Asheville Housing Authority, which worked with Siemens Corp. and Home Energy Partners to complete the work in eight Asheville public housing complexes.

The work ranged from the basic weatherization job to the installation of insulation, as well as low-water toilets and showerheads. The energy savings are startling. For example, the Housing Authority will save 41 million gallons of water a year, according to the David Nash, the authority's deputy director. Meter readers were so startled at the reduction that they thought something was wrong, Nash told a group gathered to celebrate the end of the project last week.

Dick Olsen, a spokesman for Home Energy Partners, said the collaboration was special.

“An international corporation partners with a housing authority in a project that takes a green job training program and uses a local contractor to do work that improves the lives of local residents with a guaranteed payback. That's a dynamic story” that needs to be told, he said.

Dan Leroy, co-founder and co-director of Green Opportunities, said his group's interest was in “making sure people who live in these communities have an opportunity to do the work” to improve them. That impact is still being felt, he said.

Now that the project is finished, Green Opportunities is looking to perform energy audits and weatherization work for commercial businesses and private residents. Leroy said he's particularly interested in working with area nonprofits to help them cut their energy usage and save money.

It was hard work for one hot summer, but the job will radiate through the homes and pockets books of Asheville residents for years to come.

Jason Sandford
citizentimes.com



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