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Energy review helps homeowners save money

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Homeowner Marci Hartson listens to son, Daniel, as he points out the model of an energy-efficient home he constructed for a school project.Leave it to a third-grader to get to the heart of the matter, as to why homeowners should have a free home energy review.

“It saves energy and helps the Earth,” noted Daniel, the 8-year-old son of Marci Hartson, a Happy Valley homeowner who took part in a free energy review walkthrough last week.

In fact, Daniel is one of the reasons the review was scheduled in the first place, as he chose energy efficiency for his school project at Sojourner Elementary School in Milwaukie, said Hartson. After watching a presentation at the Sunnyside Library by the Energy Trust of Oregon, an organization that offers free energy assessments, Hartson decided the time was right to have the family’s home energy needs looked into.

Home energy review

The walkthrough is an “opportunity for Energy Trust of Oregon to review where the homeowner can save energy,” noted Eric Wilson, a senior project manager with the organization.

An energy adviser points out energy savings opportunities to the homeowners, and provides them with a customized report with recommended improvements, right on the spot.

“We can then put them in touch with our trade allies to do the work; we have licensed contractors who are well versed in doing this kind of work,” Wilson added.

Why have a review?

Wilson said that Energy Trust of Oregon wants people to understand that up to 60 percent of the energy they purchase can be wasted, due to poor insulation, air leaks and/or inefficient equipment, like a hot water heater, heat pump or furnace.

Air leaks can occur in gaps and cracks, under doors and windows, and even behind light and plug sockets, Wilson noted.

He said that there are three ways to set up a review: “You can call and get an over-the-phone consultation, you can set up an in-home energy review like Marci did, or you do your own energy profile.”

Wilson added that the Energy Trust encourages people to get multiple bids to do the home improvements and that his organization has cost incentives for almost all the recommended changes.

What it all comes down to, however, like Daniel said earlier, the main reasons to get an energy review, are that improvements will help homeowners “save money on monthly utility bills and will help the environment, and help the planet,” Wilson said.

Simple improvements

A few simple things can improve a home’s energy efficiency, Wilson noted, including sealing air leaks, putting in more insulation and turning down the temperature on a water heater.

Lighting accounts for 12 percent of a home’s electrical energy usage, so that is big reason to change to compact fluorescent light bulbs, he said, noting that this is a “pretty low cost” option.

And finally, homeowners should consider removing their refrigerators that pre-date 1990, Wilson said, noting that they use five times as much energy as a new high-efficiency fridge, which can lead to costs of up to $200 a year in utility bills.

“A new energy-efficient fridge will cost you about $40 per year, and Energy Trust will come and pick up your old fridge and give you $40 in cash,” he added.

As an added incentive for people to schedule a home energy walkthrough, the energy adviser will provide homeowners with 10 CFL light bulbs, aerators for the kitchen and bathroom sinks to govern the flow of water and energy efficient shower heads — all at no cost.

Recommendations

As John Skoro, the energy adviser who conducted the energy review at Hartson’s home, began his assessment, the first thing that caught his eye was the recessed lights in the living room. Those can be a real source of leaks, and at $45 a bulb can be spendy to replace, but Hartson was told that the energy trust has LED kits with light bulbs and trim for only $25 per light.

Light bulbs now come with new federal regulation labels, which look like the nutrition labels on packaged food items. The labels allow the consumer to compare lighting options, and contain information like the brightness of the light, estimated energy costs, if the bulbs have a warm or cool tone and how long the bulbs will last.

After further discussing lighting options, Skoro then set up his ladder and took a look at the attic, to check out the insulation.

At the end of the review, Skoro told Hartson she needs to add more insulation in the attic, and recommended that she have a professional air leakage test done on her home, to measure the leakage through gaps and cracks in the attic, around windows and any place wires or plumbing come into the home. She can have the home professionally sealed, he told her, and the work can be done through one of the Energy Trust’s local allied contractors.

Skoro also recommended upgrading to energy-efficient windows. However, since this is a more costly item, insulation and sealing air leaks are the priority, he noted.

Home energy reviews are free to customers of PGE, Pacific Power, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas customers.

Top five energy savers

1. Seal up places where air escapes and add insulation.

2. Turn down the heat. The heating system is the single biggest energy expense in most homes. To help save on costs, try lowering the heat at night or while the house is unoccupied.

3. Save water, save energy. Water heating is the second largest energy expense in most homes; 20 percent to 30 percent of a home’s energy is used to heat water.

4. Check lighting. Switching from traditional incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient lighting at home is the easiest, most cost-effective way consumers can save energy, money and protect the environment. To help utility customers make a change to energy-efficient lighting, Energy Trust of Oregon is working with participating retailers across the state this fall to offer discounted prices on a variety of Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs. Discounted CFLs are available at Ace/True Value Hardware, Albertson’s, Batteries Plus, Bed Bath and Beyond, Bi-Mart, Big Lots, Costco, Fred Meyer, Grover Electric and Plumbing Supply, Haggen, Home Depot, Lowe’s, PARR Lumber, Platt Electric Supply, Safeway, Walmart and Winco. No coupon is required — the discounts are reflected in the shelf price and are available through the end of the year.

5. Unplug and recycle an older, second refrigerator.



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