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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Local families save money, energy through retrofits

It was about noon when Josh Johnson and his wife opened their front door to one knock, three people and 15 new light bulbs.

Johnson said when a friend told him and his wife about a project that cut his electricity bill from about $400 to $250 last month, they had to sign up.

The project was done through a nonprofit organization called “We Are Neutral” that aims to lower the negative impact of carbon dioxide emissions throughout the community.

Founder Jacob Cravey organizes local volunteers to retrofit the energy usage of tenants in government-subsidized housing.

Cravey joined 15 volunteers Saturday to change the light bulbs, faucets, showerheads and insulation in about 30 homes in the Tree Trail Apartments complex at 2510 NE Ninth St.

He said the organization raises the quality of living in the community while lowering its carbon footprint. According to We Are Neutral’s website, the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes “disastrously significant changes to the environment and human living conditions” by contributing to climate change.

“Any attempt at offsetting carbon is better than none at all,” Cravey said. “But I wanted to come up with a way that would make the biggest impact possible.”

He defined a “carbon offset” as any action taken that counteracts the negative impacts of carbon dioxide. This could be anything from using less water to planting a tree.

By bringing volunteers to low-income houses in the area, Cravey said his organization helps build cultural education, lower poverty and better the environment.

Cravey said he has partnered with UF, Fest and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in creating “carbon-neutral” events. For each measurement of carbon dioxide emitted during one of these sponsored events, Cravey said he tries to counteract the effects with some kind of a carbon offset.

He said he partnered with UF to create the first “carbon-neutral football season” in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and he hopes to tackle the entire Southeastern Conference.

“I thought the idea of using collegiate sports to bring attention to something important was just brilliant,” Cravey said.

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He said during the last five years, We Are Neutral helped save low-income families more than $3.5 million in electric bills and planted almost 20,000 native trees in Florida.

As he finished going from house to house, Cravey picked up his clipboard and assigned first-time volunteers, Brielle Martinez and Ryan German, to apartment 101. The two carried the last canvas sack of light bulbs, faucets, gauges and foam insulation to the door before Martinez knocked.

“We’re here to change your light bulbs and lower your electricity bill,” she said, and the tenants opened the door.

Martinez balanced on the balls of her feet to change a light bulb as 3-year-old Keihonest Perry, who lives in the house, darted between Martinez’s legs with a bright yellow Hot Wheels race car in hand. His brother Keith stood in the kitchen telling his mother everything she needed to know about the new kitchen faucet.

Martinez smiled slightly when she overheard the dreadlocked 11-year-old describe the new faucet.

“It’s just so rewarding to see the effects of what we’re doing firsthand,” she said.

A version of this story ran on page 13 on 11/8/2013 under the headline "Local families save money, energy through retrofits"

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