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Charity group's historic house makes "good karma" by going green

Posted by Brock Parker  March 14, 2010 08:55 AM

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It has been nationally recognized for it's historical significance, but for about 150 years the home of the Brookline Community Foundation has also been keeping a lot of pesky little secrets.

Scattered from the joints of the building at 40 Webster Place down to the dirt floor basement  were dozens of spots where heat was quietly leaking out of the old home and cold was seeping in.

Employees at the charitable organization felt drafts in their offices, but it wasn't until last fall that they had workers test how well the building was sealed from the elements.

The test revealed that all of those little leaks in the building added up to the equivalent of a 40-foot hole letting heat out of the house.

"It was a real gusher," said Jim Lockwood, founder of Green Guild, a Brookline home energy auditing and weatherization company.

Since then, Foundation special projects coordinator Gwen Ossenfort and a dedicated and growing number of volunteers have made it their mission to improve the energy efficiency of the 19th Century home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

They've insulated the attic and knee walls, air-sealed joints, replaced a boiler, sealed air ducts, and refitted windows--including some that wouldn't shut.

Perhaps the most backbreaking work to date came in the building's basement, where a total of about 20 volunteers spent multiple days digging out the dirt floor so a new cement floor could be poured.

"People leave here extremely dirty and feeling really good about themselves," Ossenfort said.

The dirty work is already paying off. Ossenfort said the Foundation has seen its utility costs drop by $5,000 and the savings should improve as more improvements are made.

But saving money isn't the only thing the Foundation is getting out of the project. Ossenfort said she hopes the Foundation will serve as an example for Brookline 2010, and initiative lead by Climate Change Action Brookline that is seeking to get every home and business in the community to cut carbon emissions.

Thomas Vitolo, who's been volunteering to help the Foundation's energy efficiency improvements, said people don't have to believe in global warming to help with the Foundation's project. Improving the energy efficiency of the building saves the Foundation money, and that is reason enough to help with the effort, Vitolo said, because the Foundation can then use the money to address other needs in the community.

"I'm shaking the trees looking for volunteers," he said.

The Brookline Community Foundation has been helping people transition out of homelessness for years, and has provided grants to organizations all over town. In 2008, it gave out almost $430,000 in grants to inspire philanthropy and volunteerism, raise community awareness about domestic violence, and donated $6,000 to the Brookline Health Department for a plan to assist individuals with a hoarding disorder.

Lockwood and fellow Green Guild partner Harold Simanski said helping the Foundation is one of the primary reasons they've donated expertise.

Volunteers are now digging under an addition at the back of the Foundation's building so they can build a proper foundation for the structure, which now rests on piers in the ground.

Eventually, Lockwood said he'd like to install solar panels on the roof of the building, but he said he anticipates some historic buffs might scoff at the idea.

Ossenfort said she's hoping the work will be completed by next October, but in the meantime she's enjoyed meeting many of the 60 volunteers that have showed up for the weekend work at the Foundation.

"So far it's gone really well," she said. "We're making a lot of good karma happen."

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