Workshop Shows that Energy Efficiency Is Truly for Everyone

malloryBy: Mallory Johnson,
AmeriCorps VISTA

The January Saturday morning was cold, but sunny, as people began to file into the basement at Arlington Christian Church. Soon the large room was full of adults and children – more than 60 all together – talking, laughing, and sharing stories. Everyone was gathered for the second hands-on home energy workshop being offered by Bluegrass Greensource, the How$martKY energy efficiency program, and Kentucky State University. 

What made this room different than previous workshops were the participants. Because of the success of a December home-energy workshop, GLOBAL LEX, a program of the City of Lexington that serves our immigrant, refugee, and limited-English proficient populations, reached out to see if we might replicate the workshop for some of the immigrant and refugee communities that it works with. 

Our friends at KSU created this short video the day’s events – check out the video below to see more of this wonderful workshop in action:

Gathered in the basement that Saturday morning were Lexingtonians from diverse backgrounds, representing five different language groups and whose countries of origin include Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Sudan, and others. Despite potential barriers, the presenter, Chris Woolery of the How$martKY program, led the group through a brief presentation before participants broke into small groups to move between stations covering such topics as air sealing, duct sealing, and the benefits of using energy efficient light bulbs.

New to this workshop was a station designed by Isabel Taylor, GLOBAL LEX’s Multicultural Affairs Coordinator. Many of the immigrants and refugees who come to Lexington from warmer climates do not have familiarity with home systems – such as a thermostat or home appliances – that many of us never think about. This combined with the fact that many of these individuals and families live in extremely inefficient homes, creates vulnerabilities that are more pronounced than in other populations. 

This vulnerability means there is also a big opportunity to make huge impacts with relatively inexpensive energy efficiency upgrades. Our partners at Kentucky State University stepped up in a major way to provide the energy efficiency starter kits for this workshop’s participants. By the end of the morning, all of the kits were handed out, and many of the attendees were asking questions about what other steps they could take to make their homes more efficient and protect themselves against high electric bills. The motto of the How$martKY program is “Energy Efficiency for Everyone,” and this workshop proved that this is true.



Energy Audit Kits to the Rescue

oliviaBluegrass Greensource provides free Energy Audit Kit’s through the public libraries for checkout. The Energy Audit Kit’s are designed to guide you through the first steps of making your home more energy efficient. By using this kit you can find areas in your home that could use more insulation, are leaking cold air, or appliances that are using energy even when turned off. The Energy Audit Kit’s tools include: kill-a-watt meter, Infrared Thermometer, Foot Candle Meter, Refrigerator Thermometer, and an Instant Read Thermometer. Each of these tools provides information on how energy is used throughout your home. For example, the kill-a-watt meter is used for measuring the energy usage of appliances that generally stay plugged-in such as televisions, radios, and lamps. Many appliances go into ‘stand by’ mode even when turned off and still consume power. After seeing how much energy is consumed by appliances that are turned off, you can consider plugging electronics into power strips and turning off the strip when not in use. This will eliminate appliances using energy while in standby mode. Another example would be the Infrared Thermometer which is used for identifying poorly-insulated areas in walls, floors, and ceilings. By using this tool in the Energy Audit Kit, you can decide where insulation is most needed in your home. Not only does the Energy Audit Kit have tools, it also comes with an Audit Kit manual and a Simple Savers booklet. The manual provides instructions for each tool and how to assess their information, energy saving tips, incentives and rebates related to energy efficient changes in the home, and free to low cost resources in the community to provide weatherization assistance. The Simple Savers Booklet is a DIY manual that will guide you through the energy efficient changes you can make to your home. The purpose of the home Energy Audit Kit is for everyone in Lexington to have easy access to finding out how energy efficient their home is, and then providing them the knowhow on how to make the necessary changes to their home. Energy Audit’s can be expensive and difficult to schedule for busy individuals. The Energy Audit Kit is available to anyone who wants to make changes without spending the money and time to have an energy audit done for you. Also by doing the energy audit yourself; you can save kill-a-watt hours just by seeing how your home uses energy and making behavioral changes. Making energy efficient changes, infrastructural or behavioral, can help you save money this winter on your utility bill and also reduce environmental impact. Make a difference in your home and environment by checking out an Energy Audit Kit from your local library today!


Greater Lexington Apartment Association – Sustainability in Multi-Family Residential Dwellings

Bluegrass Greensource has been invited to talk about sustainability at the Greater Lexington Apartment Association (GLAA) General Membership Meeting in September. Attendees will learn about easy to implement, sustainable strategies to lower utility expenses, attract clientele, gain a competitive advantage, and improve their triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet. The presentation will include information on:

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Water Conservation
  • Recycling Programs
  • Tenant Education
  • Highlight of Free Tools & Resources that can help implement green initiatives.

The meeting is open to GLAA members.

WHEN: Tuesday, September 22nd |  11:30 AM – 1:30 PM
WHERE: Doubletree Suites, 2601 Richmond Rd, Lexington, KY 40509
COST: $32 per person | Two or more people $30 per person

REGISTRATION: Register through GLAA at:


Rising demands of energy mean conservation is as important as ever

The majority of students in Central Kentucky, as well as their teachers and parents, have little practical knowledge about energy production in the state or the impact that energy production has on our culture, economy, and natural resources. With funding provided by the Department for Energy Development and Independence, Bluegrass Greensource environmental educators are able to provide this much-needed exposure in the classroom and at family science fairs.

As future leaders, today’s students need to be knowledgeable so they can make informed decisions in their lives today and in the future. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to continue educating Kentucky’s students about our energy sources, teaching both the positive and negative aspects of using coal and alternative energy sources.

Through a series of experiential classroom activities, each aligned to Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards, students learn about coal and its role in the economies of Kentucky and the nation; the historical and cultural aspects of coal production; and the environmental challenges related to the production and use of coal. These energy-related activities also enable students to explore the feasibility of alternative energy resources and their role in meeting the energy needs of Kentucky and the nation.

Furthermore, students learn early on the importance of conserving and being more energy efficient as a way to offset the rising demands of energy in Kentucky.

The following 10 energy conservation tips can help cut household energy costs this summer and ensure affordable and accessible energy resources for future generations:

1. When you leave your house, set the air conditioner’s thermostat to 85 degrees. When you return, lower the thermostat to a comfortable level. We recommend 78 degrees. Also, keep inside air vents clear from furniture and other objects.

2. Schedule regular service checks for your air conditioner unit. We recommend at least once a year. Replace filters when they start to get dirty. Changing filters regularly ensures your system is operating effectively and efficiently.

3. To minimize heat indoors, avoid heat-generating appliances during the day such as the clothes dryer, dishwasher and oven. When possible, let your clothes and dishes air dry and cook on an outdoor grill. We recommend avoiding the use of these major appliances between the hours of 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

4. Set your water heater no higher than 120°F.

5. To cool your home without using energy, close the windows and blinds during the day and open them at night (make sure the A/C isn’t set lower than the outside temperature).

6. Invest in low-cost, high-efficiency fans to help your home stay cooler.

7. Set your washing machine to its cold water setting and clean the lint filter in the dryer after every use.

8. Make trips in and out of the refrigerator/freezer as quickly as possible. Never leave the door open while unpacking groceries or while deciding what to eat.

9. Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use. Plug home electronics, such as TVs, DVD players and computers into power strips and turn off power strips when not in use.

10. If you have a pool: Slowly reduce pool filtration time by 30-minute increments daily. You may only need to run your pool filter six hours a day. Install a timer to control the length of the pool pump cycle.

I encourage parents to share energy bills with their children. Together you can work on reducing your household’s energy consumption and save money at the same time. Children can do their part by turning the light off in their room when they leave, taking shorter showers, and turning devices off when not in use. Set a reasonable goal for your family’s energy reduction. Celebrate the amount of money you’ve saved that month by going out for pizza or ice cream, or by putting it in a vacation fund jar.

To further your understanding about Kentucky’s energy sources and to stay current on energy research and development, visit DEDI’s website.
emily casey

Emily Casey is an environmental educator at Bluegrass Greensource. She works primarily with elementary and middle school students. She has a bachelor’s education and environmental studies from the University of Vermont. Casey spends her free time exploring Lexington and spending time outdoors around the beautiful Bluegrass Region she now calls home.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 30, 2015.


Winter’s return reminds us that being energy efficient is as important as ever

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. 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!

1 Amy-Sohner

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.