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Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity helps local families weatherize homes

BY ELISE DILGER | MARCH 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Old homes in Iowa City can face drastic heat loss when standing up to the elements — a problem a few local organizations are looking to fix.

The Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity is weatherizing homes for local low-income families in conjunction with the UI Men in Engineering program and local members of Engineers for a Sustainable World.

The UI Men in Engineering volunteers will begin working March 31 with Clare Olsen, a Springdale, Iowa, resident living in an old farmhouse. Christy Shipley, the weatherization manager for Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, told five UI volunteers at a Thursday training session in Rienow that the process would save Olsen an estimated $300 annually.

"We want to control what is coming in and out of the house," she said. "Our motto is 'build it tight, ventilate it right.' "

The community organization plans to weatherize 60 homes this year, Shipley said. Ten have been completed so far.

Habitat for Humanity volunteer Cliff Thompson said homes are being weatherized in order to stop excess heat or air escaping, and that lowers the gas prices for the homeowners.

This process — funded by a $75,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Energy — is critical for the low-income population, he said.

"Not having your home weatherized hurts the low-income population the most, because the majority of their income goes to paying the bills to pay for heating or air conditioning," said Thompson, also an AmeriCorps weatherization worker. "This does not leave them with excess money to pay for a contractor — that is where we step in."

Many of the homes the volunteers plan to work with were built before building science improved heat and air-retaining capabilities. Thompson said many of these homes contain many cracks or gaps in the roof.

"Attics are the main source of the problem," he said. "They are not air-sealed, and in the low-income homes there is a lot of room for improvement."

A home receiving weatherization must undergo a combustion test for airflow and carbon-monoxide levels, after which volunteers use spray-foam to repair cracks in the walls and roof. Insulation is then added when necessary in attics and walls. Air ducts, windows, and doors are also repaired to prevent heat and air leaks.

Shipley also said the UI students help homeowners cut utilities costs.

"All of you are helping our partner families save money," she said. "It is great to have your help."

Kevin Lindenberg, a co-coordinator of activities in UI Men in Engineering, said the project would benefit the volunteers academically.

"The skills that we are learning will not only help us after we graduate in our professional lives," he said. "But these skills will help us when we have homes of our own as well."

Members of the student organization enjoy the experience, Lindenberg said.

"This is a great way to give back to the community," he said. "And we definitely want to continue working with Habitat for Humanity."


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