Opportunity House Project

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Opportunity House, Reading PAOpportunity House provides emergency housing, three meals per day, and laundry facilities on a daily basis for more than 100 men, women and children.

The nonprofit also offers round-the-clock childcare to support the working poor and as seen with a recent slaying of one of its residents, the shelter on North 2nd Street is both a beginning and a last stop for the residents of America’s poorest city. Do you really want to say that? When was recent?

To help reduce monthly expenses and bring more money into its programs is the collective work of many nonprofits and hundreds of volunteers.

Recently joining this group is the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association, a Berks County nonprofit educational organization, known best for its annual Pennsylvania Renewable Energy festival.

During a recent tour of a homeless shelter, one of the visitors asked, “Do you use a lot of hot water here?”
“We wish some of the guys would use it more often,” was the reply.

And just what gets us into hot water?

At Reading’s Opportunity House, it’s natural gas. The shelter provides emergency housing, three meals per day, and laundry facilities on a daily basis for more than 100 men, women and children.

The hot water bill for Opportunity House runs about $6,000 a year.

Though natural gas prices have dropped in the last few years, money is tight and demands outpace the services of Opportunity House, according to executive director Modesto Fiume.

Opportunity House is a very good candidate for solar hot water. The roof is perfectly aligned for solar thermal.

“We first looked at a solar hot water project for Opportunity House in 2009,” said Bill Hennessy, MAREA’s vice president and director of education. “Donating renewable energy systems to other nonprofits is part of our service, but we’re a small, volunteer-based organization and the logistics and cost of a solar hot water system for Opportunity House was beyond our resources at the time.” A preliminary estimate set the cost at $100,000.

Using the conservative Retscreen modeling
program, it is estimated that by going solar, the shelter could cut its fuel use and emissions by 50% with a system that would provide 100% of the summertime hot water needs.

When mechanical engineer Tom Green joined the MAREA board this year, he brought large-project skills and inspiration to revive the Opportunity House solar project. Green, who works as Kutztown University’s Director of Campus Energy Services, was able to use his contacts with Berks County engineering and mechanical contractors to offer their services in reducing the project cost.

A new estimate set the cost at $65,000. Then through design efficiencies, price reductions, and donations of time and material we have been able to reduce the total requirement to $31,800.



For the past seven years, the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA) has informed and educated the public on renewable energy production, energy efficiency and sustainable living through meetings, workshops, educational materials and energy fairs.

Solar Opportunity facts:

  • This is a community project to serve the community’s poorest members.
  • 12 roof-mounted solar collectors, each 4×10 feet
  • 3,000 gallons of water storage in the basement in two insulated tanks
  • Several hundred feet of piping, heat exchangers, pumps and a control system
  • Known as a closed loop pressurized glycol solar hot water heater, the system will use the power of the sun to preheat water that goes into the two natural gas fired hot water heaters at Opportunity House.
  • Solar power is always free. Each year it will save some 2,000 cubic feet of natural gas and reduce the corresponding carbon dioxide emissions by nine tons.
  • No government funding is being used for the solar hot water system. The Mid‐Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA) is leading the effort with help from Berks County engineering firms, contractors and businesses.
  • Community donations are the key to the project’s success. The project is estimated at $65,000. Through some donations of labor and material, the cost of the project has been reduced to $50,000 and MAREA has started a fundraising campaign.