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Helping earth begins with mundane steps

Eileen Wysocki courtesy of Holy Cross Energy Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor with Holy Cross Energy, uses a thermal scan camera to check for infiltration of cold air in houses. The image below shows where the cold air, in darker colors, is entering near a vent in a house.
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ASPEN ” Earth Day is usually celebrated by dreaming big about the possibilities for the planet, but a lot of us could help the environment and our pocketbooks by thinking of mundane things like rope caulk, insulation and “phantom loads.”

Many houses are energy sieves. Homeowners might as well pour hard-earned cash down the drain as a result of doors and windows that don’t close tight, inefficient lighting, lack of insulation and just plain poor energy usage habits.

Holy Cross Energy is battling inefficiency, not just on Earth Day but everyday. The utility company offers free energy audits for its residential customers in the Roaring Fork Valley and Interstate 70 corridor.

Energy auditor Eileen Wysocki visits homes with her thermal scan camera in hand to take stock of drafty spots where cold air infiltrates. In a quick and painless visual and verbal survey, she determines if homeowners have invested in Energy Star appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs; whether they use cellular shades on windows and doors; if their water heater is wrapped in a blanket; and what they do with the computers, big-screen TVs and stereos when they leave the house.

Wysocki performs about 30 energy audits in a typical month. Although home construction is improving and houses are getting more efficient, the advantages are often lost in lifestyle and conservation techniques.

“Older homes are definitely in greater need of efficiency improvements,” she said. “But some of the newer homes are equipped with so many more electricity-using devices, extra refrigerators and often excessive lighting that I see high usage in these homes, too ” even when they are designed to be efficient.”

Wysocki’s audit of my family’s house in Sopris Village found that it is “fairly efficient,” and we are practicing “good energy conservation techniques.” She spent about an hour at our house looking at our light bulbs, appliances, boiler and thermostats. She quizzed me on our habits related to energy usage. She used the thermal imaging camera to check if our windows and doors were properly sealed.

Our weakest link was the insulation in the attic. Building code requirements weren’t as stringent when the house was built in 1987, so we should essentially double the amount of blown fiberglass insulation. An even easier step we can take is to complete our conversion to CFL light bulbs. We are about halfway there, replacing the inefficient bulbs as they burn out.

My wife and daughter claim the programmable thermostats are turned too low during the winter, but Wysocki’s information shows that cranking down the heat at night or when you are away really helps. Lowering the temperature by 7 degrees for eight hours yields a 10 percent energy savings.

Probably the most interesting thing I learned from Wysocki is that taking the screens off the south-facing windows during winters can increase the solar gain by up to 70 percent.

Here are four of her top tips for boosting efficiency:

– Replace older appliances, particularly refrigerators, with new Energy Star models. A 20-year-old fridge can use 200 kilowatt hours per month versus 45 kilowatt hours for a new Energy Star-rated model.

– Plug electronics and small appliances into power strips that can be turned off when they aren’t in use. This reduces the “phantom loads” of appliances on standby.

– Replace weather-stripping on doors and windows when it wears out. Rope caulk is an effective option for operable windows. Use regular caulk around sills where different building materials meet, and where electrical and plumbing lines enter the house. Check insulation levels, particularly in the attic.

– Wrap waters heaters in insulated blankets and wrap the hot and cold water pipes coming from the water heater, especially the first 3 feet.

– Put heat tape on a timer during winters and turn it off at the break during warm-weather months.

The energy company’s website, http://www.holycross.com, has a plethora of information about energy efficiency and numerous links to sources where you can learn more. Homeowners are on their own for making efficiency improvements, although various rebates are available from local organizations for consumers who take steps like buying an Energy Star appliance.

A free residential audit for Holy Cross Energy customers can be scheduled by calling Holy Cross at 945-5491 or sending an e-mail request through the firm’s website. Not all residents of the Roaring Fork Valley are eligible for the free audit because they aren’t Holy Cross customers.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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