The Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project: Completing an Energy Audit

The Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project (SVBH) is a non-profit organization in Harrisonburg that exists to recover and share resources on African American history in the Shenandoah Valley. The impactful work put forth by these community members is coordinated and housed in the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Center located on Hill St. in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Gaines Group partnered with SVBH in their efforts to improve the environmental stability of their building by completing an energy audit. This complimentary service helped identify areas that can be modified to reduce energy usage and increase the overall efficiency of the building.

Charles with members of the Carpenters Guild talking through improvements to Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Center.

After identifying areas of improvement, the Carpenter’s Guild of Harrisonburg donated their time and efforts to making energy-efficiency improvements and preparing the roof to install solar panels. Give Solar is promoting fundraising efforts to support the entirety of this project which includes the installation of solar panels. If you are interested in supporting this project, please visit their website to learn more about these efforts.

Members of the Carpenters Guild of Harrisonburg worked to make energy-related improvements.

Energy audits are a free service and a great opportunity to support organizations such as SVBH who are doing important work in our community. We have experience providing these audits in numerous homes, non-profit organizations, and various churches in our surrounding areas. We want everyone to feel comfortable in their living or working spaces and cut down on the overpayment of energy bills. Reach out if you or your organization are interested in this free service!

Renew Rocktown

Our last collaboration with Give Solar and the Carpenter’s Guild resulted in a more energy-efficient building at Our Community Place in Harrisonburg. This pro-bono work benefits the community by lowering the monthly utility bills of area non-profits making them more sustainable and our community more resilient.

Making your home more comfortable, energy-efficient, and durable

My goal in providing free energy audits has been to help people make their homes more comfortable, energy-efficient, and durable.

attic access panel

In 2016, I started offering free energy audits for anyone in the valley. I worked with HEC on those in the city of Harrisonburg to start with and on my own for those in the County. I wanted to help people understand their homes and businesses – the most complicated machines they will ever own. With the knowledge of how these machines run, these home and business owners (and many churches) could make changes to improve comfort, reduce energy, clean up indoor air quality, and make their homes more durable.

ductwork install

This morning I performed one of the last audits I will be able to do for some time – just not time to run for office ( and provide this service while being a single dad and business owner. Here are blog links that I hope will help you improve comfort and energy-efficiency without a full audit.

attic insulation
attic insulation

8 Steps to an Energy-Efficient home

Get an energy audit to verify your house doesn’t have unwanted guests

Increase comfort and cut energy bills for your home

energy audit light switch

Is your home comfortable? Energy Audit Follow up

An energy-audit is a great “tune-up” for your existing home. I have been offering energy-audits for free for people in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County now for about four years. My goal is to help people reduce their monthly bills by identifying easy to correct issues in their homes. I usually don’t hear back from them on the progress they have made, but I did on a recent audit which made my day.

attic insulation

From the home owner via email: After the first night with increased insulation in our attic, we want to say “THANK YOU” again for your insight and time during our home energy audit. Elite Insulation was over yesterday and the improvement to the warmth is noticeable. It’s the first time we didn’t have to use a space heater during the winter!

air leaks

In this particular audit I did not find any BIG issues that should be fixed right away. I did notice that the attic insulation needed some attention and gave the home owner some other easy to fix items that would improve comfort. I like to also leave a list of companies that I trust to get the work done right if they are called. Elite Insulation is always the name I give for improving the thermal envelope of a home or business. They do good work for a fair price – what more could you ask for from your insulator?

I emailed Ken at Elite Insulation to find out what they did at the house to solve the comfort issue. He tells me that they added R-30 insulation over the existing 10″ that was already there. Old insulation has layers of dirt and does not perform as well as new insulation so my guess is the attic now has around an R35 – R40 blanket on top holding in the conditioned temperatures. While they were there they also added baffles to keep the soffits functioning as designed. This will allow air to flow above the insulation without moving the insulation around. This is not Ken’s work pictured below, but shows the soffit vent in action.

attic insulation

I am thrilled to hear from the home owner that she felt immediate results from the work that was done. Offering free energy-audits is rewarding in that I know I am empowering people with information they can use to cut costs and improve comfort. Hearing back from someone who has done improvements really makes it worthwhile.

Increase comfort and cut energy bills for your home

This time of year my phone starts ringing on a regular basis for our free energy audit service. People do not like being cold and uncomfortable in their homes and we can help them solve this problem. If you live in the Harrisonburg / Rockingham County area, give our office a call to schedule an audit and we will help identify issues in your home. This audit can also identify solutions to increase comfort and cut energy bills for your home.

HVAC Quality

The issues I find in most homes are very similar and the biggest comfort challenge is air leakage. The biggest leaks come around the holes in your walls that you see everyday and don’t think about anymore. No, not your windows and doors, although those cause issues. The biggest air leaks when added up are probably your electrical outlets and light switches – both on outside walls and inside walls. Taking the decorative cover plate off the outlet / switch you can caulk the plastic box tight to the drywall behind. There are also pre-cut insulation patches that can be added behind the decorative plate. Finally adding child protective plugs in any open outlet will reduce air leakage through these many holes in your walls.

light switch

There is also a door in your home that most people don’t treat like a door. The attic access almost never has insulation over it and does not have weather-stripping.  Adding rigid insulation glued in layers, on the back side of the attic access panel will keep insulation in place even after you retrieve the Christmas tree.

Air Leaksair leaks

Another common problem I find in almost every home I get called in for an energy audit is lacking insulation. The easiest place to add insulation is usually the attic. I often find missing insulation that has been moved by people, animals, and wind in attics. Keeping a well insulated thermal envelope is critical for maximizing the comfort of your home.

air leaks

If your home suffers from high energy bills or rooms that are not comfortable, give us a call today.

Community means helping each other without expectation of anything in return

I have heard that true service is when you help someone who can never help you in return. It is a call to action to reach out a helping hand to others. It is the Rotary calling card – service above self. It drives us to support one another without worry of labels, politics, or greed. This has become a main focus for my design work through my career. I want to build a better and stronger community through design. This means designing houses for clients that are energy-efficient. This means reducing overall demand on our power grid and our impacts on climate change through fossil fuel consumption reduction. This means capturing rain water to reduce erosion and flooding downstream. This means designing apartment communities in ways that bring neighbors together to meet each other. Design can solve a lot of problems, and it can also build good. To me, this is why I design. As Sam Mockbee said “everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul.” This comes in all forms of service and community work. It comes as drawings of a new project. It also comes in the form of sharing advice on how to improve your building to reduce your utility costs. It comes from teaching young people the value of design. It comes through service to my community. To me community means helping each other without expectation of anything in return.

A story of impact from design

Renew Rocktown arranged for Our Community Place to get a free energy audit through the Sustainable Building Coalition in Harrisonburg. Energy Audits is a service our firm is able to provide in partnership with equipment provided to us by HEC. We offer residential audits in Harrisonburg through HEC and outside of Harrisonburg through our firm. We can also help non-profits and small businesses by providing free energy audits.
Renew Rocktown Renew Rocktown
The energy audit provided a list of strategies to help this community organization reduce their energy consumption.
OCP then partnered with volunteers to install LED bulbs in their building, the fastest return on investment we identified. Then Renew Rocktown, through the efforts of Jeff Heie helped them get a grant to solarize their roof. This could provide 70% of their energy needs through a clean energy source. For a non-profit, reducing utilities bills allows them to better serve their community. This work that started with an energy audit, then volunteers working on lights, then solar pv on the roof will have a ripple effect in our community for years to come. This is my community!