Summer and winter, the key to making homes more energy efficient is keeping the good air in and the bad air out. When you’re paying for energy to cool your home in August, then paying again to keep it warm in January, you sure don’t want all that expensive indoor air escaping.
Yet in far too many Kentucky homes, that’s exactly what happens. Indoor air dribbles out, outdoor air sneaks in, and the extra energy use adds up. Too many Kentucky families are wasting a big portion of their energy dollars all year long.
Weatherizing homes to improve energy efficiency and cut down on waste is an old idea. But for families on budgets already stretched to the max, finding the dollars to make home improvements has been an unlikely dream. Now several new programs aim to connect Kentucky households with financial resources to get results. These new options will make it easier and more affordable for consumers to take action.
Taming the energy hogs
The potential for energy savings in Kentucky is huge. Almost 60 percent of Kentucky’s 1.7 million housing units were built before 1980. Long ago, nobody gave much thought to things like proper wall and attic insulation or tight weatherstripping around windows and doors. Compared to more recently built homes, these older homes are real energy hogs.
Fixing these homes so they don’t waste so much energy is a big deal. A 2007 report prepared by the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center at the University of Louisville noted that Kentuckians spend more than $2 billion a year on household energy bills. Almost half of that money is for space heating and cooling.
Weatherizing older homes could make a big difference in what families spend. If some people make changes and stop wasting so much energy, across the state energy expenses could go down about $500 million during a 10-year period. If a whole lot of people make changes, the savings could add up to $1.5 billion. That’s good news for families on tight budgets.
It’s also good news for electric utilities. Power plants are very expensive to build. If enough people reduce their electricity use by weatherizing their homes, utilities can wait longer before they need to build any new power plants. That saves money, too.
Improving energy efficiency tops the list of ideas in Gov. Steve Beshear’s November 2008 report, Intelligent Energy Choices for Kentucky’s Future. The report says, “Not only does energy efficiency result in savings today,
the savings are compounded over time as energy prices continue to rise. Dollar for dollar, energy efficiency is one of the best energy investments Kentucky can make.”
Moving energy-efficiency plans into the real world of family homes, each with unique needs and budgets, takes time. Kentucky’s electric cooperatives have a long history of providing expert energy analysis and practical ideas for their members. Their experience and progressive ideas have played a key role in developing the ideas being introduced across the state now.
Building a team effort
Jonathan Miller, Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet secretary, says, “The most encouraging thing about making energy efficiency a real possibility for a lot of Kentucky families is the strong partnerships we’ve formed at all public and private levels. We’ve gotten the involvement and strong support of folks in the utility industry, among environmentalists, housing advocates, and state and federal government agencies.”
For Kentucky’s poorest families, the Weatherization Assistance Program offers trained inspectors and work crews who can make energy-efficiency improvements to homes at no cost to the households. With $70 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act recently added to this existing program, more households will be able to participate. Families with incomes up to $44,100 typically qualify for this program.
For other families still struggling to find cash for improvements, KY Home Performance offers special financing options and rebates. This program has no income limits. It also includes opportunities for independent contractors to grow their businesses by establishing reputations as reliable community leaders who meet the high standards of the national Building Performance Institute and the ENERGY STAR programs.
Training people to do all these new energy-efficiency jobs is also a joint effort. Several members of Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System offer energy auditor training, testing, and certification classes. Regional groups such as the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development now offer energy micro loans to help contractors attend classes and invest in new equipment.
To help get the word out about the benefits and opportunities in all these new programs, the Kentucky Clean Energy Corps is developing a Green Ambassadors program of trained community volunteers. Soon they will be giving informal talks at schools, churches, and neighborhood gatherings, and hosting Energy Open Houses to showcase improvements in their own homes’ efficiency.
MANUFACTURED HOMES AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Knowing the age of a factory-built home is an important first step in deciding on what kind of efficiency improvements will help lower energy use:
Built before 1976 No construction standards for energy use. Stacey Epperson, president of Frontier Housing in Morehead, says, “Energy efficiency wasn’t even on the radar for the 90,000 mobile homes in Kentucky built before 1976.”
Built between 1976 and 1994 Improved general construction standards.
1994-1995 Energy-efficiency guidelines become part of construction standards.
2001 ENERGY STAR label rating for manufactured housing introduced.
Many manufactured homes qualify for weatherization assistance programs or certain replacement options. Check with your local nonprofit housing agency to learn more about energy saving options.