This article was published to the 2021-2022 Green Built Homes Directory.
There are many benefits to volunteering: the social aspect of networking and meeting new people, the community aspect of helping others, the mental and physical aspect of learning new skills, and much more.
One aspect that sticks out the most and yet doesn’t get mentioned often is the “happiness effect” — the idea that helping others kindles happiness. In fact, research shows that the more people volunteer, the happier they are. When compared with people who never volunteer, those who partake in a volunteer opportunity monthly tend to be 7 percent happier and those who do so weekly are 16 percent happier, according to a study in the Social Science and Medicine journal.
As operations coordinator for Green Built Alliance’s Energy Savers Network (ESN) program, I am always impressed when building professionals who do this work full time also volunteer to help with our weatherization efforts in their off time.
“It feels good to give back,” said Phelps Clarke, construction manager at Pisgah Energy, who heard about ESN through his work as a member of the Blue Horizons Project Community Council. “You’ll be working on older homes and trailers for the most part, and it makes you appreciate how far building science has come over the years. Plus, they don’t ask you to go into the attic or the crawlspace, so that is a big plus.”
Clarke said he felt inspired to volunteer for ESN because of his passion for energy efficiency.
“I’ve made my career in installing rooftop solar systems,” Clarke said. “We always say energy-efficiency should come first, then a good solar system.”
With the first two homes Clarke worked on improving, the blower-door test showed a 25 percent reduction in air leakage, which equates to energy bill savings for the residents of 25 percent or more.
“I think especially when working on lower-income homes, utility bills can make up a larger portion of their monthly budget, so the little bit of savings from the work we do can go a long way,” said Clarke, who plans to volunteer on a monthly basis. “Alongside the money savings, we are reducing carbon emissions, which is really what motivated me to get into my career in the first place.”
Another local business that has established a regular volunteer relationship with ESN is SPOKE LLC. The employee-owned building-arts company decided to do a team volunteer workday in every month that had a fifth Friday in it, totaling five Fridays in 2021.
“(Volunteering) is a nice reminder that we are all part of the same community,” SPOKE Project Manager Jason Rector said. “You meet someone new, you share a conversation and a few laughs, and then you are no longer strangers.”
The team at SPOKE heard about ESN from United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, and saw an opportunity to use their tools and skills to give back to the community.
“It felt like the work we did will have obvious benefits to the homeowner for years to come,” Rector said. “Homeownership involves work and skills that not everyone possesses. The homeowner we worked for was an amazing woman who had been living in her home for over 60 years. We are grateful for an opportunity to maybe make the next years there a little better.”
Rector said the volunteer experience was a testament to the fact that a little can go a long way.
“When there is a better or more efficient way to go about doing something, it’s worth exploring,” Rector said, “Changes in technology have led to simple steps people can take to save money on utilities, making more of their budget available to meet other needs or wants they may have. Add to that the larger global issues around energy and impacts driven by consumption, it just makes sense to make as many little changes as possible.”
Steffi Rausch joined the Energy Savers Network staff in 2021. She brings 23 years of experience as a self-employed web designer and seven years of climate advocacy volunteer work as a chapter leader for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.