Ecolibrium3’s Healthy Homes program goes beyond energy audits to serve residents

A more holistic approach to health and energy

Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood has become one of the city’s trendiest new enclaves. West Superior Street has emerged as a “craft district” where handmade goods and restaurants thrive. The famous Duluth Grill and the children’s museum both have contributed mightily to Lincoln Park’s revival.

Yet the neighborhood remains among the most economically disadvantaged in Duluth, especially regarding health issues. In one Lincoln Park census tract, residents die 20 years before residents of an adjacent census tract, according to a University of Minnesota Duluth study that used 2011-2016 American Community Survey data.

The nonprofit Ecolibrium3, which offices in Lincoln Park, set out recently to do something about the health disparities suffered by their neighbors. The organization developed the program “Healthy Homes” to help homeowners and landlords improve indoor air quality and add safety features, in addition to saving energy.

Combining health and energy services for homeowners

Jodi Slick, Ecolibrium3’s CEO, said the “social determinants of health” include poverty, access to healthy food and the built environment. Homes in Lincoln Park suffer higher levels of mold and lead, she said, and because they tend to be older, the problem of fire has been a major issue.

The $46,100 Healthy Homes program uses energy auditors to deploy health-related devices and information in addition to strategies for reducing utility bills. Instead of two potential visits, one for auditing energy and the other studying the health of a living space, the program’s auditors look at both areas at the same time.

The approach looks to combine what different programs offer. Instead of a busy homeowner having to contact six or seven different agencies while they may be working two jobs, we bring the right partners together in a holistic manner to be immediately responsive to families who need the assistance.

Jodi Slick, CEO at Ecolibrium3

An auditor can install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors provided by the American Red Cross and assist homeowners in using radon kits donated by the American Lung Association, she said.

During the energy audit portion of a visit an expert can determine whether a family could qualify for low income weatherization money and then make a connect with the appropriate agency on behalf of a Healthy Homes client.


From pilots to partnerships, serving even more people

The 2018 pilot year was successful because Ecolibrium3 used data to determine the areas of greatest need and then established relationships with other organizations capable of offering assistance. After the data collection establishing a partnership network helped Ecolibrium3 serve more people than they could have operating just on their own.

In 2019 Ecolibrium3 continued multifamily outreach and collaborated with the Ready North Network on how the Healthy Homes initiative might work with disaster response and rebuilding.

To reach multifamily homeowners and tenants Ecolibrium3 also conducted outreach campaigns through meetings and door-to-door canvassing of a manufactured home neighborhood in another part of Duluth. First piloted in Lincoln Park, the “Rental Energy Upgrade” was developed by Ecolibrium3 and ComfortSystems.

Ecolibrium3 provided the assessments, healthy homes interventions, and air sealing. ComfortSystems offered grants and loans for mechanical system and insulation upgrades. The program allows lengthens the life of aging manufactured homes, she said.

The $5,000 CERTs grant was important to moving the program forward. We’re very happy with the support we also received from ComfortSystems, Minnesota Power, and the Minnesota Department of Health. We really believe other communities could replicate what we’ve done in Duluth in creating healthier homes for low income residents.

Jodi Slick, CEO at Ecolibrium3
  • Technology: low-cost/no-cost upgrades, building insulation and sealing, lighting upgrades, heating and cooling equipment
  • Northeast CERT Seed Grant: $5,000
  • Total Project Cost: $46,100
  • Other Financial Support: Utilities, American Red Cross, Minnesota Department of Health
  • Project Team: Dan Williams (American Red Cross); Eric Schlacks (Comfort Systems); Mark Harris, Tristen Eberling, Lucas Giese (Ecolibrium3); Tracy Biblenieks (UMD)
  • People Involved and Reached: 109
  • Annual Energy Savings: 7,158 kWh and 78,540,000 BTUs

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