Home Energy Efficiency

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It’s cold outside… and maybe inside, if your house isn’t properly insulated. Home energy efficiency is a big issue and a new study gives Alabama high marks – and low marks – for how the state handles it. WBHM’s Tanya Ott has our story.

Randy Rice has lived in his house for 13 years. He’s lived there and often shivers there…

“Certainly believe that the air was leaking upstairs. We could feel some breezes. I just saw dollars flying out the window.”

Rice replaced the windows five years ago and it helped. But he still worries about leaks around the windows. So he called in Amanda Godward, owner and energy auditor with Ecotelligent Homes.

Godward’s first step is to interview customers like Randy Rice. She takes house measurements, checks out insulations in the attic and windows. Then, she goes all high tech with the “thermal infrared scan”.

“We use this to find flaws in the insulation, in the walls, without having to do any destructive testing.”

She turns on a fan that pulls all of the air out of the room. It creates a vacuum so cold air from the outside is pulled inside. She can see, on a scanner, all the little cracks and holes where air is sneaking in.

“… around windows, around light fixtures. And by not sealing those air leaks you’re allowing your house to have drafts, which causes it to be uncomfortable, but also letting the air that you paid to heat in the winter time literally fly out through those leaks.”

Godward did an energy audit on Randy Rice’s home a while back. She suggested changes like heavier insulation in the attic, caulking light fixtures and windows, and replacing weather stripping. She’s back at the house today to see if it made a difference.

“Yellow is hot and purple is cold,” she says, looking at the scanner. “so we’re looking for areas that are purple because that’s where the cold air from outside is being drawn into the warm house.”

When all’s said and done, Godward announces that the air leakage is reduced by 15 percent. For Randy Rice that translates to about $150 in savings each year.

“In 4.5 years I should actually be saving money and able to pay off what I’ve invested today.”

Efforts like this by homeowners and measures by utility companies and others are what the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy used to compile a state scorecard for 2011. Alabama has the unique distinction of being on two lists – “States in Most Need of Improvement”… and “The Six Most Improved States”. So basically, we’re doing better than we used to, but there’s still a long way to go. Michael Sciortino is the council’s senior research analyst.

“Alabama had been sitting at the bottom of the score card for some time, and this past year the state passed some very impressive building codes so new buildings in Alabama are now built, what we call, ‘Smart from the Start’, and from the get-go they’re saving energy that otherwise would have been wasted.”

Sciortino says the state has also been offering good loan programs for folks who want to get help paying for an energy audit like the one Randy Rice had done on his house.

Short of having a full-blown energy audit done, energy auditor Amanda Godward says the easiest fixes include caulking windows, putting those little foam gaskets around your electrical outlets and switching to compact fluorescent lights. Want to know how much switching to compact fluorescent lights could save you? Check out this online energy savings calculator.