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Thought Leadership Sustainable Communities

Building Science Expertise Helping At-Risk Seniors Stay in Their Homes

Southface Institute
Southface staff and friends during the orientation to the house they would be working on during the MLK Service Project in Decatur, GA

Southface Institute staffers joined 954 volunteers at the 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Project in Decatur, Georgia

By Sarah Mundell, Southface Institute

Southface Institute is honored to share the hometown of Atlanta with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and every year on the weekend that commemorates his life and work, Southface staff and others participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Project for nearby Decatur, Georgia

This year, on January 18-20, fifteen current and former Southface staffers joined the 954 volunteers in the service project, contributing their building science expertise. The project helps at-risk senior citizens of Decatur remain in their homes safely and comfortably, all the while getting to know some of our neighbors.

Technical Principle Mike Barcik and former Southface staffer Sam Morton perform a blower-door test after work is complete, measuring a 20% reduction in the home’s air leakage.

Making a Difference

“This is an amazing project and one that I’ve been helping out with since my days as an intern at Southface,” says Amelia Godfrey, Southface Program Manager for EarthCraft. “Not only is it a great way to give back, but you also learn from other volunteers on ways to improve your own home.”

Highlights of the team’s work included insulating the attic, attic access door and hot water pipes; duct-sealing the HVAC; adding a whole-house fan cover; cleaning HVAC filters, vents and a dryer filter; sealing the windows and doors; switching out lightbulbs with LED bulbs; and digging a swale in the yard to facilitate better water drainage. By performing blower-door tests at the beginning and end of the weekend, the team measured a 20% reduction in the home’s air leakage, which increases the home’s heating and cooling efficiency and will lower utility bills for this resident.

Because of this year’s high volunteer turnout, the Southface team—including representatives of other partner organizations and a group of Boy Scouts—was able to complete the work on their assigned home early and began work on a second home, which was completed later that week. 

“When we came back on the second day, our senior homeowner raved about how warm she was,” says Mike Barcik, Technical Principle for Education, who heads Southface’s involvement in the project. “She had to turn down her thermostat on Saturday night because we did such a great job on insulating and sealing her house!”

Overall, this year’s MLK Service Project volunteers worked on 32 homes and contributed approximately 10,500 hours of volunteer effort, valued at a $267,000 impact to the community.

How to Get Involved

Southface staffers have been involved in Decatur’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Project for 18 years. The project began in 2003 and brings together volunteers to install handicap ramps, replace rotten wood, weatherize homes, repair water damage, and professional partners contribute plumbing, electrical and HVAC work.

Your organization can get involved in affecting positive change for low-income seniors in Decatur by joining Southface’s Corporate Volunteer Program. Run in partnership with the City of Decatur, the program weatherizes and insulates low-income senior homes. For more information, please contact Kelsey McNamara.

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