We had snow this week! In November! OK, maybe it wasn’t much snow, but any snow in November is special. As a result of that touch of snow, accompanied by super cold temperatures, I am especially enjoying cuddling under blankets by the fire. The problem is, it’s much earlier this year than last, and I am a bit worried about our heating bill for the next four months.
Because this is Kentucky, and the weather can change at a moment’s notice, I am sure that before winter is officially here, we will have warmer days, maybe even record-breaking temps. But for now, I am once again concerned with keeping my house warm.
Here is my confession: I am the director of an (incredible!) environmental nonprofit, but my house is extremely energy inefficient. I have not found a support group for me yet, but maybe this article can help me find one.
In my defense, my husband and I have worked very hard since moving in to do what we can to save energy. In fact, in 2010 we had a comprehensive energy analysis done by both our utility and an independent contractor to try to figure out what our options are. We spent about $1,000 in insulation, a new door to our attic crawl space, duct sealing and various miscellaneous updates to seal our house. We also spent about 1,000 hours (and less than $30) caulking every inch we could reach.
Our house was built as a cabin in 1979, and until just before we moved in, it did not have central heat or air. We obviously have an uphill battle. But, after doing all of the work mentioned above, we started to see a real difference in our utility bills. Kentucky Utilities prints the average outside temperature and the number of kilowatt hours of electricity you use each month. Using this, we were able to compare our pre- and post-efficiency retrofits electricity bills for months with the same average temperature. They showed that we saved $200 in one month. This is GREAT news!
Kentucky Utilities has recently started sending updates on its customer’s energy usage as it relates to similar homes in the area. Ours is always higher than our neighbors, so I know we are not finished on our quest.
The last two winters have been relatively mild, so, to be honest, our own big energy efficiency push has waned. But the last few days have reminded me that we have a lot more work to do.
The first thing I am going to do is to see where we left off. Bluegrass Greensource purchased self-energy audit kits (through a grant from LFUCG) and gave them to the Lexington Public Libraries so anyone with a library card can check them out. They include the following:
• Laser thermometer to find areas that are letting the cold air in
• Fridge thermometer to make sure your fridge is not using more energy than needed
• Kill-O-Watt meter to see how much “vampire” energy your appliances and cell phones chargers are using when you don’t need them
• Foot Candle meter to see if you could use less light throughout your house
• Instant read thermometer to make sure your hot water heater not hotter than the recommended 120 degrees
The library kits are completely free, but as the temperature drops, there can be a significant waiting list so act quickly!
If you are really involved in finding air leaks in your house (or just like cool gadgets), you can come to the Bluegrass Greensource office to check out a real infrared camera. This will give you an amazing visual of cold areas in your home (or heat escaping if you look at your house from the outside). The infrared camera is also free, but we do require a $35 fully refundable deposit.
The library kits come with a comprehensive “What Now” guide. So if you find that your attic hatch is leaking conditioned air, there is a how to guide to fix it. Or if you find that your electrical sockets are leaky, there are step-by-step instructions on fixing them.
But if you are not the do-it-yourself type, or you feel that the job may be beyond your skill level, we recommend getting an official energy analysis done by local professionals. KyHomePerformance.org has a list of certified contractors to choose from and can even offer financing to help with bigger jobs. Utility companies can also offer audits for little to no charge, but there is often a long waiting list.
As a starting point, check out the energy efficiency information here. You can find information on tax incentives, rebates and useful tips for home energy savings. Also, look for residential energy efficiency workshops from Bluegrass Greensource coming soon.
I know that I will never have an Energy Star-rated home, but I am happy that I am learning things along the way to energy efficiency that I can pass along to others that may be able to get that distinction. In the meantime, I will turn my thermostat down as far as I can handle, and do a lot of cuddling!
Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.
This article appeared in KY Forward on November 14, 2013.