Get your home energy projects started

This is one in a series of occasional columns from Transition Town–All St. Anthony Park, the neighborhood-based group working for a local response to climate change: a smaller carbon footprint and a stronger community. You can find out more about Transition Town at www.TransitionASAP.org

By Tim Wulling

Wondering how to start reducing your energy consumption and energy bills?

Start with a call to the Neighborhood Energy Connection’s Energy Advisor Service, 651-328-6224, or check the NEC’s website, thenec.org.

The Energy Advisor can help you sign up for the Home Energy Squad or an energy audit. The advisor also can help with rebates and financing the bigger projects by connecting you with sources of low-interest loans.

For small changes that generate big savings, have the Home Energy Squad (651-328-6220) install weather-stripping, a programmable thermostat, efficient light bulbs and a low-flow showerhead. They charge a $70 trip fee but nothing for materials or labor. Xcel Energy subsidizes this program in St. Paul. The fee can be waived for customers who qualify for Energy Assistance.

For larger changes, advertisements abound for new windows, air conditioning, furnace replacement and more. But which of these are sensible? People often think first of windows, even though insulation and air sealing make much bigger dents in energy use for less cost.

Don’t guess. Get off to a good start with professional advice about what’s best for your particular house. A Home Energy Audit does that (Xcel customers can call 800-895-4999). The auditor checks the insulation in your attic and other places and checks the age and condition of your furnace and water heater.

The $60, hour-long energy audit includes a blower door test. A big fan placed in your front door blows air out of the house. With windows closed and the fan blowing, you can feel outside air coming in around pipes, around the attic hatch, through the electrical outlets, from the seams of the rim joist, and so on. Typically, windows do not make up the majority of the leaks.

If the blower-door test happens during cold weather, the leaky spots show on photographs taken with an infrared camera. For the $40 additional cost, infrared photos provide a vivid record that you can show an insulation contractor to help guide their work.

Another hurdle to reducing energy is cost. The Energy Squad and a Home Energy Audit are likely to be within reach for many, but what about insulation? A new furnace? They are in a whole different price range.

Families with limited incomes have special opportunities through the Energy Advisor Service. Larger projects can be done without charge through a program of the Energy CENTS Coalition (651-774-9010). This might include getting a new furnace or boiler, home insulation, or a new water heater, for example, for free! If you are struggling to pay utility bills, you might also qualify for help with monthly payments.

When you near the finish line, learn your home’s Energy Fitness Score by calling the Energy Fit Homes program (612-335-5874). A good score comes from efficient lighting, programmable thermostat, storm windows, fully insulated attic and walls, and high-efficiency heating system. When it’s time to sell your house, be sure your realtor touts your Energy Fit Homes certificate.

Join the race to reduce your energy consumption and energy bills.

Tim Wulling is a member of Transition Town–All St. Anthony Park.

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