Abell Salutes: Civic Works’ Project Light Bulb

March 2009 / Salutes / Community Development

Abell salutes Civic Works’ Project Light Bulb and all 300 Mrs. Copelands, who are saving money by saving energy.

1924 E. 32nd St., in the Cold Stream section of Baltimore City near Lake Montebello, looks pretty much like all of the other houses on the block: a rowhouse with a porch front, a postage-stamp size front lawn, five steps leading up to the porch and the front door. But 1924 is not like any of the other houses on the block; men and women from Project Light Bulb have been here; they have made 1924 different.

Mrs. Bobbie Copeland lives here, and she explains this difference: “The people from Project Light Bulb approached me with an offer to make certain changes in my home at no cost that would save energy, and at the same time, save me money on my Gas and Electric bill. They turned out to be right. It’s true. By saving energy I find I am saving money.”

And what changes that have the technicians from Project Light Bulb made? To answer, Mrs. Copeland escorts a visitor on a tour, starting in the living room. She lights a table lamp and points out that the bulb is of the ‘compact fluorescent kind.’ Most all of the bulbs in the house are these compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They provide much brighter light than the conventional bulbs. And they do not take as much energy to keep them lit.”

The next stop is the kitchen, actually the kitchen sink. Ms. Copeland points to a lever on a device fixed to a spigot. “Water comes out in a shower, in separate little streams, so there is less water coming out to do the same job” She presses a tiny lever near the faucet handle. “This stops the water at the temperature you had it, so when you restart it the water comes out at that same temperature. There is no loss of water, or of the energy to heat the water, when you leave the kitchen for any reason or pick up the phone to interrupt what you were doing.”

Mrs. Copeland leads the visitor down steps off the kitchen and into the basement, which has been rebuilt into a club room. She points to the hot water heater. “It’s wrapped in three and a half inches of insulation. It keeps the heat in and the savings in energy up.”

Back on the first floor she points to the thermostat on the wall near the stairwell. She says, “You can preset the control to get differing temperatures at the times when you want it, so that you need not waste energy keeping the house warm when you are not here or when you are asleep and might want it cooler.

“I not only can take credit for saving energy, I got credit on my monthly budget bill from Baltimore Gas and Electric. I am delighted with the program.”

Mrs. Copeland’s house at 1924 E. 32nd St. is one of 300 houses where Civic Works has installed the energy saving, money saving Project Light Bulb program.

The program traces its origins in Baltimore to The Abell Foundation’s interest in energy conservation. Aware of Civic Works’ strong track record of neighborhood stabilization, community service and skills development, the Foundation approached the organization about funding for a new energy-efficiency program. Civic Works researched a program in Colorado, implemented by the Mile High Youth Conservation Corp with funding from the Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation. With a start-up grant of $67,375 from the Abell Foundation, the Colorado model was modified into a pilot program for Baltimore. Project Light Bulb was born.

The project is designed to be easy to implement, immediately addressing the five things in the house that can quickly and most cost-effectively reduce energy consumption and lower household energy costs—with a high priority on light bulb replacement, with removal of up to 15 incandescent bulbs within the house and replacement with CFL light bulbs. The Maryland Energy Administration provided 1,600 CFL bulbs for the pilot and Baltimore Gas and Electric provided 1,000 CFL bulbs. In addition, Civic Works tests thermostat settings for the furnace and air conditioner and tests temperatures of hot water heaters and refrigerators. They replace one kitchen and one bathroom faucet with aerators and replace the showerhead with a low-flow version to reduce consumption of hot water. As a safety measure, Civic Works provides a carbon monoxide detector and makes referrals to the Fire Department for smoke detectors in houses where there are none. Importantly, they provide education on conservation by giving the resident tips on additional energy-saving measures such as washing clothes in cold water and cleaning dust off refrigerator coils. They provide printed information with each resident on the energy conservation items installed and tips for additional savings.

Project Light Bulb began as a pilot program in two neighborhoods, Belair Edison and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, in November, 2007. Each of the neighborhoods was chosen for its demographics of low and moderate income households most likely to be affected by energy prices, the predominant housing type of the two-story row house with some built-in energy efficiency advantages and for the strong neighborhood organizations with marketing capability.

Civic Works trains AmeriCorps workers and deploys them in teams of two to visit each home. By the end of February, 2008, Civic Works had visited 330 homes, installing 4,060 CFLs, 287 kitchen aerators, 258 bathroom aerators, 219 low-flow shower heads and 330 carbon monoxide detectors and provided 164 names and addresses to the Fire Department of smoke detector referrals. They found that in the majority of homes, residents had very limited knowledge of energy conservation and most did not have thermostats, freezers and water heaters set at the recommended temperatures. Civic Works conservatively estimated that in the first year the 300 participating households will save $27,000 in combined electricity costs and 3.2 million gallons of water, not including any reductions from adjusted thermostat settings or hot water usage.

Using data provided through BGE under agreement with each participant, Civic Works compared actual electricity usage from February and March, 2008 to February and March, 2007. They determined that the average monthly savings for participating households is 53 kilowatt hours per month or $8, which represents approximately a 10 percent savings in monthly electricity costs. Although the homeowner does not pay the $205 cost of the installation of energy-saving devices at current electricity rates, the homeowner savings cover the cost of the program in a little over two years. Based on the results of the pilot program, The Abell Foundation awarded a subsequent $213,000 grant to Civic Works to continue the program for one year to address an additional 1,000 households.

The Abell Foundation Salutes Project Light Bulb: Dana Stein, Executive Director; Earl Millett, Director of Community Development of Civic Works; and the Civic Works AmeriCorps trainees who implement the program, and all 300 of the Mrs. Copelands who are saving money by saving energy.