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Volume 13 | No. 2  Spring 2011

Close to Home
Close to Home
A Clean Energy Barn Raising

Jennifer Norris, director of major gifts at UCS, describes how a neighborhood team helped make her home more efficient.

Ever since my family and I moved to Arlington, MA, four years ago, we have been working to improve our 83-year-old home’s energy efficiency. We installed compact fluorescent lightbulbs and a programmable thermostat, insulated an addition built by previous owners, and upgraded to a more-efficient boiler. Yet in the winter our house was still drafty, and we weren’t sure what else we could do on our budget to improve matters.

Then last fall, my husband came across a notice from Arlington HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) seeking candidates for a “barn raising.” This volunteer-run organization brings neighbors together to weatherize homes. We jumped at the opportunity, and soon met with Jeremy Marin, Arlington HEET’s co-leader (and a UCS member).

Many Hands Make Light Work

To help prioritize tasks for the team’s visit, Jeremy conducted a blower door test, in which a fan placed in the front door sucks air out of the home, revealing gaps that allow air into the home. We reviewed his recommendations and our budget (labor is free but the homeowner/tenant pays for materials) and outlined an action plan. Jeremy ordered the supplies and sent out a call for volunteers, emphasizing that no special skills were needed—only the willingness to learn and do a morning’s worth of work in exchange for coffee and pizza. A few experienced men and women would serve as team leaders, training the volunteers and ensuring the work would be done well.

On a Sunday morning in early December, Jeremy arrived along with 20 volunteers and the group quickly divided up into small teams based on the skills they wanted to learn. Some installed professional-grade weather stripping around our windows and doors; others wrapped hot-water pipes in the basement, caulked cracks in the exterior of our foundation, or installed a collapsible balloon in the chimney to prevent air from escaping through the flue (which can be removed when we use the fireplace). My husband and I floated between teams, picking up pointers and giving the okay on certain actions.

A Tighter Home—and Community

In three short hours, Arlington HEET had sealed the equivalent of a six-inch square hole in our house. We also learned about some larger-scale projects that we need to address (hopefully in the years ahead) to further improve the energy savings. The experience yielded benefits beyond a more efficient home: we learned a great deal about our house, gained skills and confidence we can apply to future projects, and met some fellow residents who share our interest in energy and the environment. We look forward to “paying it forward” on Arlington HEET projects in the future.

Arlington HEET is just one of more than 20 organizations around New England that reduce energy consumption and global warming pollution in a concrete, community-oriented way, and more are popping up nationwide. For advice on organizing a HEET in your town or city, visit

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