By Kayla Wiles, columnist
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) named the Shi Center’s home weatherization project as the winner of campus sustainability achievement at the 2016 AASHE Conference & Expo in Baltimore Oct. 9.
Selected out of 220 entries, the weatherization project has offset, or reduced, the equivalent of 290 metric tons of carbon dioxide since an AmeriCorps volunteer developed the Shi Center’s Community Conservation Corps (CCC) six years ago. The CCC weatherized its 100th home in August and looks to expand the program in quality and quantity.
Weatherization, according CCC program coordinator Joey Espinosa, means to make a home more energy efficient by using less utilities. The CCC provides this service for free to low-income homes in Greenville.
“We do this through fixing insulation, making sure the ductwork isn’t leaky, installing low-flow shower heads, energy-efficient light bulbs and sealing up cracks and gaps to minimize air infiltration,” Espinosa said.
The CCC’s presentation at the AASHE conference showed that the average household has already saved 25 percent on utility bills through the weatherization program. This reduction in energy usage converts to carbon offsets that Furman claims as part of its goal towards carbon neutrality by 2026, said Shi Center assistant director Kelly Grant Purvis.
“The weatherization project plays a crucial role in mitigating carbon,” Purvis said. “It’s helping the pluses to outweigh the minuses of the carbon footprint.”
Carbon neutrality, said Purvis, occurs when the “pluses” of renewable energy cancel out the “minuses” of nonrenewable energy. The CCC has partnered with Trees Greenville this fall to put more “pluses” in the equation.
Haley Eckert, a sophomore pre-engineering physics major, spearheads the partnership between CCC and Trees Greenville through her Shi Center fellowship.
“Our project coming up is planting trees at some of the houses we’ve already weatherized,” Eckert said. “We’re also trying to make it to where whenever we go in to weatherize a home, we’re going to get trees planted there.”
According to Espinosa, the benefits are mutual. “Trees Greenville needed the homes, and we needed the trees,” he said. “The right tree in the right place can help lower the utility bills even more by providing shade and blocking the wind,”
Even though the CCC weatherizes 14 to 16 homes a year, 12 currently remain on the program’s waiting list and many more do not qualify for the program due to having an income above the poverty level.
“We decided a few years ago to focus on homes that we could do really well on, rather than spreading out the money and not doing as well of a job on other homes,” Espinosa said. “Ultimately, we want to help as many people as possible.”