Greenbelt in 2012

A photo blog about Greenbelt, Maryland in its 75th anniversary year

GHI Winterization Workshop

with 4 comments

January 7

Greenbelt Homes, Incorporated (GHI) is the housing cooperative that owns the original government built houses in the center of Greenbelt. There are 579 brick or cinder-block homes from 1937, 992 wood frame townhouses from 1941 (the so-called defense houses), and 29 larger homes built in 1969. These houses are in good condition but obviously they are not as energy efficient as newly constructed homes. In the late 1970s and early 80s, there was a rehabilitation program that replaced the original oil-fired boilers by electric baseboard heaters, but 30 years later there are better ways to insulate and heat houses. GHI has been planning for a community-wide upgrade for many years, and a replacement reserve fund was created in as early as 1987. Currently a pilot study is underway in 28 units to test out methods of insulation and heating, and the community-wide upgrade is scheduled to start in 2015 and last several years. This winterization workshop provides members with information about staying warm and keeping heating costs down during the winter season, and there will also be updates about the on-going Pilot Program.

The workshop takes place in the Community Center. In Room 201 are three demonstration tables: care and feeding of your baseboard heaters; preventing infiltration from doors, gaskets and pipe openings; and insulating your attic hatch.

Most GHI homes are heated by electric baseboard heaters, put in place during the rehabilitation program in the late 70s and early 80s. Steve Skolnik explains the workings of baseboard heaters and offers tips for operating and maintaining them: basically they work on convection, i.e., circulation of hot and cold air, and should be kept clean and away from furniture and drapery. Here he reminds people that they should vacuum baseboards from time to time to remove dust and other debris such as animal hair.


Ken Jarva shows a diagram about insulating attic doors: “side gaps! center gaps! thin plywood!; a blanket on top or a foam board help… but it’s hard to open and close the attic; offset foam boards on top are easier to open but miss the side gaps; offset fiberglass batts insulate well and allow doors to open.”


Jarva shows fiberglass batt insulation.

The second room, 202, features tables for “preventing cold air infiltration in windows and wall air conditioners; spot heating; and GHI’s Building Committee, the Pilot Program, and the Community Upgrade.”

A frequent complaint from GHI members is about excessive moisture in cinder-block homes. These homes are sealed so well that moisture can be trapped inside and mold and mildew may develop. Here Bill Jones, who lives in a block house and is a member of the GHI Board of Directors, shares a few tips about humidity control: he finds that by opening the windows a small crack, letting dryer air in, he has much less of a humidity problem and spends less money operating a dehumidifier.


Lois Gorman explains various ways to prevent cold air infiltration in windows and wall air conditioners, by using Plexiglass sheets, curtains, cardboards, weather strips, door snakes, etc. In this photo, she points to a box she has built around her air conditioner, with additional insulation and even picture frames to beautify it.


Gorman demonstrates putting Plexiglass sheets on windows for an extra layer of insulation.

Lore Rosenthal tries an infrared thermometer on a fur curtain as Michael Hartman watches on. Such detectors report temperature differences and are used to find leaky areas. GHI members can borrow one from the office to use in their units.

A group has gathered around Eldon Ralph, left, who became GHI’s General Manager on December 12, 2011, after being Assistant GM for many years, and Jim Cohen, Chair of the Buildings Committee.

Many members are not satisfied with electric baseboard heaters because they work slower than other systems and can bring high electric bills. Here Ralph explains that at this point baseboard heaters have not been ruled out because the Committee wants to see their performance after improved insulation. Furthermore he mentions that these electric baseboards have been working for 30 years whereas heat pumps are expected to last 12 years, are more expensive, and have higher maintenance costs. It will be a balancing act. As far as other heating systems being considered, he mentions conventional air condensing systems and ductless heat pumps by manufacturers such as Mitsubishi and Sanyo.

A member asks about changing to new windows now on her own before the Community-wide Upgrade because of necessity. Ralph suggests that she contact the Technical Services Department for advice on the kinds of windows compatible with the upgrade, and he mentions that the Finance Committee is discussing a policy which will give insulation value to members who have upgraded themselves.



Written by eric

January 8, 2012 at 6:25 am

Posted in GHI

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. I live in a block unit as well but putting blankets over your windows and leaving your window open a “crack” in the winter to battle humidity are NOT acceptable solutions to living in a home. GHI needs to address these issues with modern solutions. Window and door replacement, exhaust vents in bathrooms, better insulation internal and external, … This pilot program is going to do nothing to tell you what we (as residents) already know. Our homes are hot in the summer and COLD in the winter and internally humid 365 days a year. I replaced my entry doors and storms last summer with energy efficient ones, I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference that simple change has made in both my energy bill and overall environmental comfort.

    GHI is stitting on a mountain of cash in their ‘reserve’ fund and interest rates to borrow money are at their lowest rates EVER. Why are we waiting to move out on some of these “no brainer” improvements. Let’s start with the windows, mine are 31 years old according to the date stamped on the PVC inside the frame. 1981, come on GHI, let’s move out on this.

    Brandon C

    January 9, 2012 at 10:43 am

    • I agree with moving on some of the “no brainer” items earlier rather than later. I would point out, however, that the window blankets, suggestion to open windows a crack, etc., are not part of the pilot program (at least I hope they’re not), but are things that a person could do now on their own for cheap.

      Martha Gay

      January 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    • For block homes, I read that they are trying two different forms of exterior siding. I guess this can only be decided after putting in new heating systems? It’s probably better then to replace windows and doors and add exhaust fans after siding and insulation have been installed? Maybe that’s why they don’t want to replace windows and doors and install exhaust fans now. Anyway, I find this pdf handout quite informative:


      January 10, 2012 at 3:18 am

  2. Windows should be replaced before siding is done, however the doors can and should be replaced now.

    Jennifer L.

    January 19, 2012 at 10:41 am

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