Program shows residents ways to cut utility costs

How to save cold cash this winter

December 10, 2007|By Katy O'Donnell | Katy O'Donnell,SUN REPORTER

As temperatures plummet and fuel prices soar, many Maryland residents are dreading the coming winter months. But 300 low- to moderate- income homes in Northeast Baltimore are getting a boost from Project Light Bulb, an energy-efficiency initiative undertaken by the urban service corps Civic Works.

The three-month pilot program, which began last week, has pledged to provide energy-conserving devices to residents of the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello and Belair-Edison neighborhoods who are struggling with their utilities bills.

Civic Works and the Abell Foundation, which agreed to fund the program with a $67,375 grant, began discussing the initiative this summer after observing a similar program in Denver, said Dana Stein, Civic Works' executive director.

"Energy efficiency has always been important to us," Stein said, adding that the rise in heating costs lent the project greater urgency. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rates climbed 72 percent this year.

Civic Works, a local branch of the national nonprofit AmeriCorps, usually employs local youths, who receive modest wages during their service and education grants upon completion.

Monday through Thursday, Project Light Bulb dispatches two teams to Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello and Belair-Edison - where, according to Civic Works, residents spend more than 30 percent of their monthly household income on owner costs and mortgage payments - to assess and make adjustments to the energy habits of households in need. The goal, said Earl Millett, a Civic Works community developer, is to "reduce energy without reducing comfort."

On Wednesday, AmeriCorps volunteers Andrea Hammer, 25, and George Jacobs, 50, spent an hour working on the Belair-Edison home of Diane Glasgow, 60.

After replacing a living room light bulb with a 14-watt compact fluorescent one - which uses 75 percent less energy and lasts 10 times longer than a conventional bulb - Hammer and Jacobs moved to Glasgow's dining room, where they placed a carbon monoxide detector above the door to her basement.

As they installed the detector, they explained that carbon monoxide leaks generally come from basements. Educating the residents, Millett said, is important to the success of the project, as is chatting with them.

"If you get a senior who likes having someone to talk to, take your time and stay a while. It's part of the service," he said.

"People have been receptive and happy," Hammer said. "It's nice to know that we're helping people save money and also helping the environment."

The team eventually replaced 11 light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones donated by BGE, which gave 1,000 bulbs to the project. They also traded one bathroom faucet and one kitchen faucet for aerators that can save half a gallon of water every minute. The showerhead was also exchanged for one that saves two gallons of water per minute.

Before leaving, Hammer and Jacobs determined the temperature of the refrigerator, freezer and hot water, and informed Glasgow that her thermostat might be set too high at 76. A heating bill increases 2 percent to 4 percent for every degree the thermostat is set above 68.

Volunteers will return to follow up on the houses in February, when they will compare this winter's energy bills with last winter's and assemble final program data.

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