By Belle Crawford
For many, fighting climate change may seem like a privilege reserved for those with the means to purchase expensive solar panels, battery-powered cars and state-of-the-art, energy-efficient home appliances. Energy Savers Network (ESN), a relatively new but rapidly growing organization dedicated to “helping the climate by helping people,” aims to include low-income or underprivileged households in the progression toward more sustainable communities in WNC.
Almost entirely volunteer-led, ESN provides energy efficiency and weatherization services at no cost to the homeowner. “Sometimes we go to relatively nice homes,” says Brad Rouse, ESN executive director. “The owners of these homes may have lost the income they had due to illness, divorce, death of a spouse or some other reason. Sometimes the homes are in really bad shape and we are fixing wide gaps in the walls or doors. The homes that we serve are both owner-occupied and rental, site-built and mobile.”
ESN has its roots in services that began at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Hayesville, where Rouse lived for several years. There, he and his fellow parishioners decided that, instead of simply donating money to offset local energy efficiency concerns, they would become more directly and personally involved with communities that needed help. They began ordering and handing out LED bulbs, installing weather stripping on doors, fixing gaps and holes and providing families with whatever they needed to lower their energy burden.
In 2015, Rouse moved to Asheville from Hayesville and, early in 2016, he met Alice Wyndham through Asheville Citizens’ Climate Lobby. With the shared desire to help people and help preserve the environment, the two quickly began organizing and training teams of volunteers in Asheville. In the beginning, Rouse and Wyndham worked alongside Community Action Opportunities to support their weatherization services and, early in 2017, they began weatherizing homes on their own. Last summer ESN began a partnership with Green Built Alliance (GBA), receiving funding from Buncombe County and others. Together with GBA, they are actively involved in the brand new Blue Horizons Project, a Buncombe County campaign to move toward a clean energy future.
ESN services are not just useful in the winter. “We help people save energy all year long,” says Rouse. “In the spring and fall, energy savings come from more efficient lighting, making water heaters more effective, using electronic devices more efficiently and delaying the use of air conditioning as long as possible.”
Hopes are to build a lasting movement in Buncombe County. “We want to help all citizens enjoy an energy-efficient home, making our housing more affordable and greatly reducing our contribution to pollution and climate change,” says Rouse. “We think our community can do this and that people are waking up to the twin evils of inequality and climate disruption.”
ESN hopes to help 200 families this year and even more in the future. In order to achieve this goal, the organization needs donors, volunteers and clients with an interest in lowering their energy consumption and helping to reduce the effects of climate change. Volunteer work includes tasks ranging from changing light bulbs, insulating light switch and outlet plates and wrapping water heaters to light carpentry, replacing broken window panes and patching holes in ceilings or floors.
To learn about volunteer opportunities, apply for ESN’s weatherization services, become a donor or sign up for its newsletter, visit energysaversnetwork.com. Follow ESN on Facebook or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 828.655.3649.