Energy Masters Program energizes Arlington County

There are more than 125 trained volunteers in the program.

There are more than 125 trained volunteers in the program.

Written by Emily Halstead, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and a communications intern for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The Energy Masters program, funded by the Arlington County Community Development Fund, has made strides in improving energy efficiency for residents in affordable housing units within Arlington County neighborhoods. The program is a collaboration between Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington County, and two county non-profits: Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment and Arlington Thrive.

“Training teams of volunteers to go into low-income apartments and do energy and water saving improvements helps both lower the utility bills of the residents and the property managers, ultimately improving the environment by eliminating the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere,” said Arlington County VCE Senior Extension Agent, Jennifer Abel. “Since starting the program in 2011, we’ve trained 126 volunteers and we’ve done the improvements in 474 apartments.”

The initiative for the program began when Abel received a phone call from a board member of Arlington Thrive, a non-profit organization that provides emergency assistance to low-income people who are struggling to pay their rents or utility bills, regarding the costly utility bills of residents in affordable housing units. The non-profit then collaborated with the Arlington County office and Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment to submit a grant for the energy efficiency improvement program.

The improvements include:

–       Sealing any gaps and holes around the windows and door frames.

–       Inserting foam gaskets behind light switch plate covers and outlets to prevent air leakage.

–       Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs.

–       Installing low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads.

–       Mounting “toilet tummies” in toilet tanks, reducing the amount of water used.

–       Cleaning the coils underneath the refrigerators to help improve cooling efficiency.

–       Providing power strips to help save electricity from indicator lights.

“The sense that I get from the volunteers is that they see the real tangible results of the work that they’re doing,” Abel said. “After they see this huge gap in a wall and seal it up they can immediately feel that they’ve stopped the air leakage that was occurring and therefore have improved the overall comfort of the home for the residents. That’s definitely the most exciting thing, and that’s what keeps the volunteers coming back.”

In addition to the retrofits in the apartments, the program now includes one-on-one home visits with people in low-income apartments to provide residents with more education on steps that they can take to improve their energy efficiency. Many of the volunteers are also providing education in local elementary, middle, and high schools to teach students about energy efficiency and the importance of energy conservation.

The program leaders recently submitted a request to the City of Alexandria for a neighborhood strategy grant in hopes to expand the program there as well.

“We’re working hard now to expand the program to Alexandria and it’s looking good that that’s going to happen,” Abel said. “Hopefully this program can expand to other parts of the state and ideally other parts of the country as well.”

For more information visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

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