Home Energy Partners’ Workshop at Berea Public Library: an example of blending classroom and community
by Jessica Roberge ’13
“All students have to live somewhere, so they need to know how to be energy efficient in whatever way they can,” said Berea College teacher Jason Coomes. Coomes has been a teacher at Berea College since 2008. He started out in Ecological Design in the Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) program but in fall 2011 he switched to the Technology Industrial Arts program. This semester Coomes is teaching a course called Building Renovation Practicum. The course consists of focusing on renovating existing buildings to radically lower energy costs and energy usage for the building. Coomes had become familiar with the local organization Home Energy Partners and had his class attend one of their workshops to reinforce the material they had been learning in class.
Home Energy Partners (HEP) is a nonprofit organization that is just a little over three years old. HEP’s mission is to help residents of Madison County and Rockcastle County lower their energy cost. Their goal is to educate people on how to make their homes more energy efficient. They do this in a variety of ways, one being workshops. These give people the opportunity to become aware of their energy usage and how to conserve it, which in the long run saves money. HEP hosts two-hour workshops twice a month. At Berea’s most recent workshop, Gina Chamberlain, one of the workshop leaders, stated “This has been an amazing turn out! We have a full house.” Coomes took his class to the workshop because the content was directly related to class material. The students need hands on material and a workshop is perfect because it demonstrates how the information is applied to real life. In the course, the students will be assessing a building provided by Coomes and learning how to do things such as blowing insulation, installing storm windows, caulking, looking at heating and air conditioning systems, improving lighting, looking at landscaping options and conserving energy. The workshop covered similar points.
Berea College student Andrew Wiley is taking Coomes’ Building and Renovation Practicum course. Wiley said, “I was hoping to learn how to do some small improvements and renovations that would apply to my living situation right now.” Wiley is interested in becoming more aware of energy efficiency by taking steps such as attending Coomes’ course and the workshop. He was intrigued by the infrared camera that was passed around. “It was really useful to actually see where heat in the room was going and finding the leaks,” Wiley said. The presenters also showed charts with the majority of the home’s energy-consuming devices, like heating units and lights. From the free samples offered, Wiley was able to start weather stripping his own windows to prevent air and heat leakage.
Harrison’s kitchen after HEP replaced the ceiling, floor and windows HEP provides custom energy assessments, too. An example of what they do can be taken from Nancy Harrison. She has lived in her home since it was first built in 1966. After her husband passed away she had no way to maintain her house. Her fixed income and $250 per month electricity bills left no funds for routine maintenance. After seeing an ad in the news this past October, Harrison applied and got accepted to have her house assessed. She was hoping to get all her broken windows replaced and floor fixed where it caved in, but what she got was a whole lot more than she expected. The kitchen, bathroom and washroom floors were falling through and they got repaired. The roof was leaking and it got fixed. Some windows were broken and they got replaced. The walls didn’t have much insulation in them so the walls were insulated properly. The gutters also got cleaned out and fixed. HEP repaired Harrison’s home and showed her how to conserve energy. She learned how to look for air leaks and how to seal them. She uses energy saver light bulbs now. Harrison said, “I just hope that HEP can keep on doing what they are doing because they really are helping people! They do a good job on their projects.”
Students, faculty and town members can learn simple and easy ways to conserve energy in their homes and apartments by attending a free workshop such as HEP. Students can see a prime example of class content. Faculty can gain another perspective and learn new tips on energy efficiency. Town members can learn how to contribute their part to their homes in conserving energy. One of the workshop leaders, Kelly Asher, said, “Renters and home owners really need these workshops because they are the only energy efficiency awareness workshops in the area.”