In today's economic climate, saving money on energy costs seems like an impossible task.
But at Monday night's free energy efficiency workshop at Northern Essex Community College, sponsored by the city of Haverhill, Rebuilding Together, Community Action Inc., Clean Water Action and MASSSAVE, about 30 homeowners and renters found out how to do just that.
Michael Berry, an energy efficiency expert from Energy Star, shared tips for making homes more efficient through both low- and high-tech solutions. He discussed everything from caulking and insulation to boilers and ventilation systems.
But Berry said over and over that the best place to start is with an energy audit, a service available from your energy provider, often at no cost. Their infrared heat sensing cameras and blower door devices will help them see where cold air is seeping in and warm air is escaping.
Berry also emphasized energy efficiency first and renewable energy second, but prophesied that renewable energy could soon be a real possibility.
"As we see more and more innovation, we see it becoming more and more affordable," Berry said.
The organizing groups were happy to host this event, especially as one of the most financially challenging winters in recent memory looms just around the corner. They don't want people to have to choose between heating their homes and other essential needs, like food or medication.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he has spoken to many worried citizens who have come to talk to him about the costs of heating their homes.
"People come to me and tell me about the real tragedy of this economic downturn," Fiorentini said. "One woman had just paid $800 to have her oil tank filled, a cost that was usually $300 to $400."
Katy Krottinger, energy coordinator for Clean Water Fund, was thrilled that the interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy has spread and hopes that, through information sessions like this one, the knowledge will continue to grow.
"It's so exciting that people are interested in what this is and want to do it," she said. "This could be the gateway to renewable energy. We have to start thinking about how we live our lives now. I hope this takes off and we make this a tradition."
Lynn Murphy of Rebuilding Together had the low-income and senior homeowners that her nonprofit organization serves in mind as the workshop went on. She hopes that information on saving money through the cost-effective methods discussed will keep many Haverhill residents comfortable in their homes this winter.
"From our perspective, we want everyone in Haverhill to be warm and safe," she said. "We want to get this information out to all residents in the community."
TIPS FOR SAVING ENERGY AND MONEY THIS WINTER
From Michael Berry's presentation at NECC on Monday:
1. Don't assume there's no opportunity for improvement.
2. Get a comprehensive energy assessment with a blower door test and an infrared camera.
3. Do not add insulation without sealing air leaks first.
4. Avoid bat insulation in walls and attics. Blown insulation gets in more of the cracks and fits right up against walls.
5. Only use a contractor experienced in treating existing homes.
6. Consider adding mechanical insulation.
7. Don't forget rebates and tax credits. Look for the programs you are eligible for.
From a pamphlet by Rebuilding Together:
1. Simple conservation measures can reduce energy use as much as 20 percent at little or no up-front cost.
2. Run your hand around the windows and doors in your home or in front of an electrical outlet on exterior wall. Can you feel the cold air? Seal out the air with a 50-year or lifetime silicone-based acrylic caulk. Cost runs about $3 per tube. Seal around windows and doors, plumbing and electrical penetrations in the basement and attic, and receptacles and switches.
3. Turn your thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer when you will not be home for several hours or when you go to bed. Better yet, install a programmable thermostat that automatically raises and lowers temperature settings. A programmable thermostat usually costs between $40 and $100.
4. Change the filter in your furnace or heat pump every month or two. Have your furnace and/or heat pump cleaned and checked at the start of every heating or cooling season. Minimize the use of space heaters. Use an Energy Star model furnace or boiler if you replace your old one.
5. Seal any joints in exposed duct work with foil tape or mastic. Then insulate ducts in your basement or attic.
6. Wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket, but make sure you don't cover the air intake near the thermostat on a gas water heater. Insulate hot and cold water pipes within five feet of the water heater. Turn off your electric water heater if you are away from home for several days. Take more showers than baths. Replace your shower head with a low-flow shower head.
7. While doing dishes, don't run the dishwasher until you have a full load. If you do dishes by hand, fill the sink with wash water rather than washing under running water. Use the energy saver or water saver setting on your dishwasher. Air-dry dishes.
8. Wash laundry in warm or cold water. Dry clothes outdoors when you can.
9. If you are buying a new appliance such as a refrigerator, dishwasher or washing machine, buy an energy-efficient model.
10. Set the temperature of your refrigerator only as cold as you need. Allow hot food to cool completely before putting it in the refrigerator. Clean the coils on the back and the air intake grill about every six months. Don't keep refrigerators or freezers in the garage because they work harder during the hot months. Keep your freezer relatively full. Don't let ice build up in your freezer thicker than one-quarter inch.
11. Turn lights out when you leave a room. Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, which will use about two-thirds less electricity. Consider installing light and motion senors on outdoor light fixtures.
12. Turn off your computer when you are finished using it. If left on all the time, your computer will use more electricity than a 100 watt light bulb and cost about $70 per year.