Carnegie Mellon University
October 25, 2021

Freedom By Design Chapter Helps Warm Pittsburgh's Homes

By Meredith Marsh

Pam Wigley
  • College of Fine Arts
  • 412-268-1047

As temperatures dip this fall and winter, sweaters and jackets inside may not do the trick to keep homes warm and cozy — especially for people who live in older homes or rent apartments that haven't been upgraded. A group of Carnegie Mellon University students have developed a way to help people who may not have the means or ability to make permanent, money- and energy-saving renovations in cold weather.

The CMU chapter of Freedom by Design has developed a Weatherization Kit Project that provides information and materials to meet the needs of people challenged by living quarters that need to be kept warmer.

"The Weatherization Kit embodies the power of the design process. Our box carries many years of student brainstorming and community feedback," said Colin Walters, a third-year student studying architecture who is part of the project. "We hope to use these ideas to redesign the box in the next few years. Some key features will be to generate less waste in the production phase and to calibrate the types of products we include in the kit."

Students in CMU's Freedom by Design chapter have developed a Weatherization Kit for Pittsburgh residents.

Low-income families in Pittsburgh may have to choose between paying their rent and paying their utilities. When someone rents a poorly maintained residence and they cannot afford to — or are not allowed to — make the repairs, much of the heat they pay for will go out the window. Simple initiatives such as caulking and weatherstripping the home can reduce infiltration rates by 20 percent, which can amount to significant savings on utilities and reduce the need to make tough choices about which bills to pay.

"Pittsburgh is just one example of a larger, metropolitan city in which home-dwellers have to work hard to maintain energy efficiency in their homes," said Omar Khan, head of the CMU School of Architecture. "And when you're renting vs. owning a home, the challenges are greater because you often are not permitted to make permanent changes. Our students took those factors into consideration when they developed their kits and stepped in to help."

CMU students created a collection of tutorials to assist in installing materials in the Freedom by Design's Weatherization Kit.

The project started in 2017 and were first distributed in 2018 through partnerships with the Larimer Consensus Group, the Kingsley Association and East Liberty Development Inc. In fall 2019, students also worked with the Build-A-Bridge Foundation to provide kits to refugee families in Pittsburgh.

The kits aim to make homes more energy efficient by providing residents with instructions and materials, including door sweeps, window plastic, weatherstripping and electrical socket insulation. Students wrote, illustrated and compiled instructions in multiple languages to help expand the project's reach.

Students in the Freedom by Design group created a tutorial to help families use their weatherization kits.

"This program provides opportunities for students to be involved in Freedom by Design and have a lasting relationship with Pittsburgh communities," Khan said. "Projects like this help to develop a sustained relationship and presence within the community, which is critical to pursuing other larger scale projects in the future."

The student group was one of seven teams awarded as a 2020 NOMA-NAACP-SEED Award for Design Excellence in Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the project. They won a $1,000 honorarium and presented their work at the NOMA National Virtual Conference on Oct. 17, 2020. Students from CMU's group in September presented the Weatherization Kits at the NOMA/NAACP/SEED Webinar on JEDI Design.

— Related Content —