Crowd Power: Weatherization 'Barnraisings' Collectivize Conservation

Posted by John W

Is it possible to reduce the combined costs of the heating, electric, and water bills in an apartment building by half and, in the process, cut back on carbon emissions? Absolutely. In many communities around the world, community-building volunteer events, called barnraisings, or weatherizations, accomplish just that. The WATCH Community Development Corporation of Waltham, Massachusetts has organized nine of these barnraisings, and there's no stopping them.


I first heard of WATCH through a church newsletter when they were searching for a barnraising candidate in Waltham. As an environmentalist and resident of Waltham, I was delighted to learn about WATCH and its impact on the community through barnraisings. I had wanted to weatherize my own apartment, and I didn’t know where to start. Logically, my wife and I signed up to have our apartment assessed and for a group of volunteers to come weatherize our building. It was a well-organized, fun, and educational Saturday with committed volunteers wanting to cut carbon and costs for us.

The process began with an initial, free assessment of the energy loss we were experiencing in our 1912 duplex. They determined our pre-barnraising air leakage in the building with a blower door test, a scientific method to estimate this loss of air through cracks and holes.  Second, more attention was given to which places needed sealing in order to get the best results. Finally, we drew up a plan for the volunteers who would come to our place in a couple of weeks.

Over the four-hour block of time it took to barnraise the two units in our building, volunteers caulked cracks, sprayed foam in basement holes, put Q-Lon under doors to seal them, replaced 30 incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs), and insulated the attic. After all our hard work, we enjoyed a 50 percent reduction in air leaks, equating to $409 savings in the first year. Compared to an average reduction of 25 percent in many other homes that had been weatherized, this was an outstanding result.

In addition to helping to cut our costs and carbon footprint, those present learned valuable skills related to carpentry, electrical work, and masonry that would aid in home repair.  Undoubtedly, the most important thing everyone learned was how to spread the word about barnraisings and put some of the techniques to work on their own living spaces.

I am now a seven-time volunteer and four-time leader for barnraisings through WATCH CDC. All barnraisings are conducted in the homes of people who need the extra savings to spend on basic necessities such as food or school supplies for their kids. This ensures they affect the families that need the support the most.

WATCH is a beacon in Waltham for affordable housing, adult leadership and development education, and empowering residents through civic engagement. If you have any questions about barnraisings, I'm happy to answer them.  

This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy