Top: Transition House volunteer Yuling Wang prepares to caulk windows this month at an environmental “barn raising” at Transition House, a Cambridge emergency shelter, with instruction from Home Energy Efficiency Team trainer Sue Butler. Middle: Transition House volunteer David Hildum caulks a window at the event. Bottom: Stacy Wasserman and Dave Madan show off water saving devices. (Photos: Transition House)

Transition House, a city nonprofit domestic violence prevention agency, is greening its Emergency Shelter, a 120-year-old building that houses more than 100 people each year.

Transition House is “connecting the dots between environmental sustainability, energy conservation and sustaining vital programs in an era when domestic violence is on the rise and the needs of survivors far outstrips available resources,” said Risa Mednick, chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors. “Increasing energy efficiency makes real economic and programatic sense. Every dollar saved on utility expenses will be redirected toward strengthening services our community depends on.”

The Green Shelter Project kicked in to high gear this month with a modern-day weatherization barn-raising in partnership with the Home Energy Efficiency Team, the Cambridge Energy Alliance and New Generation Energy, Mednick said.  City councillors Denise Simmons, Sam Seidel and Councilor and Tim Toomey, also a state representative, worked alongside 40 volunteers sealing drafty basement leaks, caulking windows, installing low-flow faucets and shower heads, replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescents and weather-stripping doorways.

“In a few hours, we swapped out 50 light bulbs in 15 rooms, caulked all the windows and doors, fitted sinks with new aerators and sealed over 140 feet of band joists that were a major source of heat loss,” said Audrey Schulman, HEET’s president. Based on before-and-after measurements, the team estimated a reduction of more than $600 per year on heat and electricity bills.  “We look for ways an organization like Transition House or an individual in their own home can realize big savings with small changes,” Schulman said.

One example she gave: Simply replacing the old bulbs in exit signs with high-efficiency LEDs will save Transition House over $100 per year. Her team donated all supplies and training, and the Cambridge Energy Alliance donated the CFL bulbs.

Chuck Lewin, founder of New Generation Energy, ducked below basement pipes and beams to seal up air leaks. “Every small task each volunteer did at the barn raising will have a lasting impact for Transition House. The environmental benefit can multiply if everyone applies what they’ve learned to their own homes and apartments.”

Introducing low-income homeless women to new skills that might spark their interest in green  jobs and  training opportunities is another important goal of the Green Shelter Project; engaging them in energy-saving strategies as a part of budgeting and money management is also key, the event organizers said.

Next steps for the organization include continuing work with HEET to train staff and clients on changing work and lifestyle behaviors to increase energy conservation and savings; collaborating with New Generation Energy and the Cambridge Energy Alliance to monitor utility consumption patterns and assess the efficacy of renewable energy systems for the Emergency Shelter; and a green kitchen renovation.