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What Volunteering with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Taught Me about Saving Energy
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What Volunteering with Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Taught Me about Saving Energy

Guest author Russell Zerbo volunteered with Rebuilding Philadelphia Together and was able to learn more about Pennsylvania Housing and saving energy. Find out how in his story today.

Clean Air Council’s ongoing lawsuit with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over lax building standards is an overlooked fight to save Pennsylvanians’ money on utility bills and lower carbon dioxide pollution from power plant. But the gap between codified building standards and Philly’s residential reality is large.

With this dilemma on my mind, I was curious to what extent we could help residents over the course of a day. I was thrilled to join my coworkers and Philly CUSP to help residents on North Franklin Street invest in their homes.

Volunteering at Rebuilding Together Philadelphia

Since major construction was left to professionals, CAC staff underwent a crash-course in weatherization early Friday morning. Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP) renovated 13 homes for low-income homeowners who are elderly, disabled, families with children, or veterans on the 2000 and 2100 block of North Franklin Street.

As Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Executive Director Stefanie F. Seldin said,

“The neighborhood of Eastern North is facing increased development. Rebuilding Together Philadelphia loves to work in this North Philadelphia neighborhood to ensure that long-term owners won’t be displaced by gentrification and can take advantage of increased home values. RTP’s repair work will ensure this neighborhood stays economically diverse.”

Armed with spray foam insulation dispensers, new lightbulbs and malleable sheets of fireproof insulation, my team was tasked with sealing cracks and gaps in basements. It was not technically demanding work, but required our attention to not coat ourselves in spray foam (with face masks securely in place) when removing old insulation.

Clean Air Council vounteer rebuilding philadelphia

Ironically, although spray-foam can go to great lengths to seal-up basement drafts and in-turn decrease pollution, it is quite nasty to get on your skin – or worse, eyes or mouth. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Once the sensitivity of the spray-foam nozzle was mastered, it was good training for weatherizing my own home. (There are many insulation options for your home and the energy savings can be vast.)

After mastering the spray foam, I eventually moved on to scraping old paint off handrails. As I did this with a brush, a contractor lent me to use his electric sander/polisher with a wire brush attachment. I was emboldened. This skilled tradesman thought I had a grasp of power tools, so what could go wrong?

Luckily, nothing did. In fact, I quickly obliterated the hand rail’s old paint job, clearing the path for tomorrow’s volunteers. Although one may feel novice, the professionals were helpful and encouraging.

After spending many mornings in Harrisburg demanding new building codes as a path for Pennsylvania’s compliance with the Clean Power Plan, it felt good to actually be dirty (rather than just feeling dirty after witnessing PA’s lack of saving energy. But more importantly, take your issues out, find a way to demonstrate them in a concrete way. For me, this was helping out RTP.

Clean Air Council volunteering at Rebuilding Philadelphia Together

Why Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Matters

These statistics show we need more help for Philly’s aging population and infrastructure:

  • Philadelphia has the largest percentage of older adults among the country’s 10 largest cities (17.9%).
  • 1 in 5 of Philadelphia’s older adults live in poverty.
  • 90% of Philadelphia homes were built before 1980.

Visit www.rebuildingphilly.org or 215-965-0777 for more information.

Become a Supporter!

If you love what we do you can support our mission with a one-time or monthly contribution.
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Russell Zerbo
Russell Zerbo is the federal advocacy coordinator at the Clean Air Council. He likes to participate in comment periods and write letters to the editor. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2011 with a degree in government. View all posts by Russell Zerbo

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