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Making a big difference with small investments

No matter what she did, the master bedroom in Susan Hinkle’s late 1970s-era house near Corbin always felt cold and drafty. She worked with Chuck Stuber, an energy advisor with Jackson Energy, to conduct an energy audit on her home and was surprised by what they found.

“We discovered a big (uninsulated) hole behind the medicine cabinet in my bathroom,” she said. “It was almost like having an open door—that was where all the air was coming from.” Stuber’s audit helped Hinkle identify areas that needed additional insulation—like the bathroom, as well as her attic, under the house, and beneath the flooring. Sealing up these leaks kept the air she was paying to heat and cool from escaping her home. Afterward, “the house was so much warmer, and so much quieter,” Hinkle says.

“The reality is, we see a lot of people in older houses that are underinsulated,” Stuber says. “You can make a big difference with a small investment just by insulating.”

With Stuber’s guidance, Hinkle also made other energy-saving upgrades throughout her home, including installing a new energy-efficient heat pump, new ductwork, one new utility room door, and new windows.

“In Susan’s case, her heat pump was outdated and her compressor was blown, which meant her system was operating on expensive emergency heat any time the heat pump kicked in. So instead of costing her 80 cents an hour, it would cost her over $2 an hour when the system was running in heat mode,” Stuber says.

All the changes led to a dramatic drop in Hinkle’s monthly electric bill—from an average monthly usage of 1,456 kilowatt-hours to just 944 kWh, a 35 percent reduction, or roughly $64 per month in savings.

“I would encourage anybody to contact their co-op, because they will help you make a list of what you need to do,” Hinkle says. “With the list, you can make changes as you can afford them; you don’t have to do them all at once. Every change saves you money. Check with your co-op often; the programs they offer change over time.”

What is a home energy audit?

To learn how to make your home more energy efficient, schedule a home energy audit with your cooperative’s energy advisor. If the service is available in your area, that takes the guesswork out of your home energy savings to-do list.

During an audit, your advisor will point out areas where you may be wasting energy due to air leaks, duct leakage, insufficient insulation, or aging “energy-hogging” appliances. The entire process usually takes about an hour, perhaps a little longer if a blower door test is done.

What is a blower door test?

During a home energy audit, a blower door test helps determine how airtight your house is—and where leaks may be occurring. A powerful fan is mounted to the home’s front door, pulling air out of the home and lowering the pressure inside. This causes higher-pressure outdoor air to flow through leaks and gaps in the home. The auditor then uses a smoke pencil to see and identify these air leaks wherever they occur—whether around the home’s windows, doors, or other exterior penetrations or in the ductwork.

The energy-efficient heat pump 

Heat pumps offer an energy-efficient option for both heating and cooling. In fact, heat pumps use about half as much energy as standard electric furnaces and baseboard heaters, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Before shopping for an air source heat pump, check with your local electric co-op for the minimum SEER and HSPF ratings required for Touchstone Energy Home certification. (SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is the unit used to measure cooling efficiency, while HSPF, or Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, measures heating efficiency.)

Some co-ops offer heat pump financing, added to your monthly electric bill. Ask your local co-op if it offers a financing option.

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