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Secretary Chu meets with St. Bernard Project co-founder Zack Rosenberg | Courtesy of St. Bernard Project

Secretary Chu meets with St. Bernard Project co-founder Zack Rosenberg | Courtesy of St. Bernard Project

Five and a half years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the folks at St. Bernard Project are helping survivors return to their homes and communities. The non-profit’s volunteer-driven Rebuilding Program supplies residents with skilled labor to help them rebuild their homes, and if the homeowner cannot afford them on their own, provides the building materials paid for by donations. So far, the organization has completed homes for 342 formerly displaced New Orleans residents and 50 more houses are currently under construction.

Last November, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu traveled to New Orleans on Veterans Day to volunteer at a home construction site with the St. Bernard Project. During his visit, Secretary Chu met with volunteers, volunteered at a construction site and spoke with co-founders Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney about how the group can use new technologies to reduce the energy footprint of the families they assist.

In the months since Secretary Chu's visit, the Department of Energy facilitated a partnership between the National Renewable Energy Lab and IBACOS (Integrated Building and Construction Solutions) that will give technical assistance to the St. Bernard Project to turn their home building model into a model of affordable energy-efficient building.

This partnership provides St. Bernard Project the technical assistance they need to implement cost-effective energy efficiency measures into the homes as they are rebuilt. There are several ways to incorporate these building techniques while still keeping costs low – a critical component to the organization’s ability to rebuild a home in 12 weeks for around $15,000.

This means the St. Bernard Project will receive technical assistance from the partner organizations to help execute clean energy projects and initiatives by providing in-field energy project assistance, including technical assessments and project planning. With help from Entergy, an energy provider in the New Orleans area who is funding much of the energy improvements and staff, St. Bernard Project builders are able to implement cost-effective energy efficiency techniques that can lower a family’s energy use and increase the overall efficiency of a home.

Zack Rosenberg, co-founder of the St. Bernard Project, says that it’s because of Entergy’s leadership, vision, and commitment that the organization can take the advice of the NREL/IBACOS partnership and implement the techniques into the Rebuilding Program and meaningfully improve the lives of the clients.

"The great thing about this partnership is that the data can tell us what to do, which will then tell us if the up-front costs are worth it,” Zack said.  “Energy efficiency is not just a brand – the proof is in the pudding.”

Some of the techniques employed include modifying the method of sealing on the inside of house to create more efficient thermal breaks; installing insulation around ducts; or even changing the installation process of ducts. Dr. Booten said there are lots of different little things homeowners can do to provide low-cost energy efficient modifications to a home. Additionally, they are conducting energy monitoring on the homes to collect information on the effectiveness of the energy-saving measures and to also report information to the families on how they can more effectively use energy.