Jessica Torres is an organizing intern with Groundwell. She's a freshman at Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences, and plans to dedicate her studies to social work and Spanish.
It's not every day that neighbors decide to coordinate their purchases. But Roberta Ritvo, a Mount Pleasant homeowner, decided to do just that.
Her home, built in 1915, sits on a street lined with row houses interspersed with single-family homes in the historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Roberta, known as Bert, purchased her home in October 2002. After quick, mostly cosmetic renovation work was completed, she moved in the following February.
Due to her home’s age, Bert realized that she needed to invest in a second round of renovations. Her work plan would involve substantial interior work and include new windows and a new front porch.
Because she was doing renovation work, Bert figured it could be worthwhile to “look into ways to weatherize to increase my home's energy efficiency at the same time.” She had noticed uneven heating of the rooms and wanted to use this opportunity to fix any leaks.
As residents of a historic neighborhood, Mount Pleasant homeowners are restricted in what they can do to their homes’ street-facing exterior.
To maintain the historic integrity of the houses, stringent rules standardize what materials can be used. Eager to better understand the options available to her, Bert researched ways in which she could increase her home’s efficiency without altering its exterior.
Though she was aware that her home needed new insulation and other fixes, she didn’t have time to research the options or screen contractors. Instead, Bert searched for organizations that could simplify the process for her.
She contacted Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (GWIPL), an organization that helps religious institutions respond to climate change. GWIPL Director Joelle Novey put Bert in contact with Groundswell (at the time called The DC Project).
When Bert spoke to Groundswell staff last summer, she wanted to know what steps she should take next if she were going to weatherize. With Groundswell’s guidance, a local home performance business conducted a comprehensive energy assessment of Bert’s row home.
Several days later, she received a professional report that recommended measures she could take to improve her home’s efficiency and ranked those steps in terms of cost-effectiveness. Several months after Bert received her report, she hadn’t yet scheduled her weatherization. With winter looming, she decided to move forward with the energy upgrades.
Though she had initially planned to weatherize her home individually, Bert decided to join a group of neighbors on her street and a few other neighborhoods scattered across D.C. who were weatherizing as a group through Groundswell’s Strong Homes Program.
Why? She wanted to benefit from the screening of local businesses and lock in a discounted rate on the services. The average discount can be upward of 15 percent.
Bert’s been pleasantly surprised by how easy the process has been, noting, “I am excited about the opportunity to improve my home and meet more of my neighbors through this community project.”
And, because of the information she now has about her home’s energy use, she feels like a “responsible, informed homeowner.”
Bert says the Strong Homes Program is “an easy way to take care of things in my home that needed to be done, but I didn’t have the time or energy to do myself.”
To learn more how to become involved in a project in your neighborhood, contact Ayla Schlosser at
By investing in energy efficiency upgrades to your home, you can follow Bert in putting her values into practice and doing “good for [her] everyday life in her house, the environment, and the world at large.”