An Interview with Curtis McKinney of the Chicago Weatherization Program

October 15th, 2010 | Posted by tjones in Green Homes | Green Products | Interviews

We recently had the good fortune to speak to Curtis McKinney, Team Leader for the Chicago Greencorps. Each year Greencorps hires roughly 70 people into its nine-month green industry training program, with a special emphasis on weatherizing homes for low-income people and senior citizens at no cost to the homeowner. Thanks to the efforts of Curtis and Joe Silver, the manager of our Chicago location, Greencorps and Green Depot have a strong working relationship.

Green Depot: Hi, Curtis!  Great to talk with you today.  I was wondering if we could start off by having you tell us a little bit about Greencorps – how long has the program been around, and how long have you been working with Greencorps?
Curtis McKinney: Well, I’ve been working with Greencorps since 1996, so I’m going on fifteen years.  The program itself was started in 1995.  It’s a training program.  We’re a job training program that started off by training people in things like remediation, weatherization, tree care training, and other things like that. We also try to teach some life skills.

GD: Do you mostly work with volunteers?
CM: No, we’re mostly a hired staff.  Greencorps is a program through the City of Chicago, and the Department of the Environment.  We also work with the Safer Foundation [a re-entry program for ex-offenders] – they do a lot as one of our training partners.  Safer handles a lot of the social services that we provide.  We’re also partners with WRD Environmental which helps us with funding and management. Lately we’ve been classified as a reentry training program, so that’s how they like to characterize our program.

GD: Could you tell me about your work with the weatherization program?
CM: What we do is we work with low-income homes and senior citizens, and we renovate their homes.  First, we do an energy audit of the home.  From there, we go in and we try to fill as many air holes and leaks as we can find.  We do caulking, windows, doors, window plastic if we need to, and blow-in insulation in attics. The weatherization stuff we do is low-cost weatherization.  The most expensive thing we do is the blow-in insulation, which is not really that difficult to do.

GD: As far as insulation goes, do you mostly focus on attics or do you do walls, as well?
CM: Yes, for insulation we just do attics, and all the material we use is environmentally-sensitive.  We used recycled newspaper insulation, that’s been ground up really fine.  We use low-VOC caulking and the toxins and smell from that is very low compared to conventional caulk.  We also use blue jean insulation to plug some of the larger holes – that insulation is made from recycled blue jeans.

GD: Are there any other parts of the home you focus on, specifically?
CM: Well, we also feel around doorways and doorways.  We try to close off fireplaces – to make sure the flues actually close.  This year, we’re installing what’s sort of like a balloon to fill the chimney.  We reach up inside the fireplace, and blow the balloon up, and it totally blocks air from coming inside.

GD: And you guys get your green products all from Green Depot?
CM: Yes, we probably get 90% of our material from green depot for the program.  Everything from thermostats to blue jean and recycled paper insulation, the caulking, window film, door strips, foam weather stripping, hot water tank covers, chimney buckles, we pretty much get everything – actually, it may be more like 95%.

GD: And you’ve been working with Joe Silver, of the Chicago Green Depot location for a while?
CM: Yeah, absolutely.  We’ve been working with Joe for three to four years, maybe longer.  At first they Joe was supplying the city for the weatherization fair and made the home weatherization kits that we’d hand out to citizens.  Back then, someone from downtown was sending out kits to people to do themselves, but then we changed it and started to install them ourselves.  That was where the weatherization part of Greencorps came form – the City.

We still make home weatherization kits; that’s another one of the programs we do through the Department of Environment.  We make the kits for them, and they distribute them through the school system, where they train the teachers on how to use a lot of the materials in the kits, and then the teachers give them out to the community so they can weatherize their own homes.  We get the materials for those kits from Green Depot.

GD: This all sounds great!  Thanks so much for speaking with us.  Anything else you’d like to share about the program?
CM: You know, it’s just a really good program that the city has going. So far we’re in our 4th year of doing weatherization in people’s homes and it’s something that’s going to continue into the future, and that’s a good thing.  When Mayor Daley looks at what we’re doing, he sees good things.  The program really is a success for the city.

You can find out more about the Chicago Green Corps and the weatherization program by visiting their website, here.

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