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Home energy audit finds savings in nooks and crannies

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The polite GoodCents technician turned up right on time for the Appalachian Power/AEP West Virginia home energy audit we had scheduled. He donned his cloth shoe covers to protect my less-than-clean floors. I appreciated the gesture.

We signed up for the home audit because we suspected that our 83-year-old house might need a few energy-saving updates, the audit was free, and we know we would receive a box of free stuff like fluorescent light bulbs, faucet aerators, water heater pipe insulation, a refrigerator coil cleaning brush, refrigerator thermometers and low-flow showerhead.

After he walked outside and checked out our heating and cooling system, we went to the kitchen, where he horrified me by removing the grill that covers the bottom of the refrigerator to access the coils. Did I mention that we have a large, long-haired dog? This was the first of many times during the audit that the technician would assure me, "I've seen worse." The coils benefited from a swipe of coil cleaning brush.

We walked through all the rooms on the first floor of our house. He pointed out that cold air seeps in through the light switches and electric and telephone outlets on outside walls. Each one of those outlets covers a hole in the wall. I acknowledged that I'd felt those bursts of cold air around the faceplates this winter as I painted the walls. He suggested we install pre-cut foam gaskets behind the faceplates. They're available at home improvement stores.

He deemed our windows efficient and approved the caulking around them. The floor registers over an unheated and uninsulated crawlspace were a different story. He suggested caulking the gap between the duct and wooden floorboard frame, another cold air access point. The gaps under the outside doors need additional weather stripping.

In the basement, we looked at the filter in the 30-year-old (yikes) furnace. The filter was fine, but we know the older furnace isn't operating efficiently and should be replaced. After determining how many people live in the house and use hot water, he suggested an appropriate temperature setting for the water heater, and installed foam pipe insulators on the hot water pipes.

A nearly empty refrigerator in the basement is another energy guzzler. We should either keep it filled because a full refrigerator uses less electricity than an empty one, or empty it and pull the plug.

In every room with computers, televisions and other electric appliances, he asked how often they are in use. Depending on the hours they're used, he suggested unplugging them off during down times. The television in our son's bedroom should obviously be unplugged during the school year when he's away at college.

When we poked our heads into the windowlike entrance into the uninsulated crawlspace, he sighed. The bare trusses unquestionably should be insulated, but the two-foot height of the crawlspace and large ducts snaking through it would make the task extremely challenging. I need to contact an insulation installation company and get quotes. The two first-floor rooms above the space are noticeably colder in the winter. At the least, we should insulate the crawlspace door to prevent cold airflow into the basement.

On the second floor, he made the same recommendations about foam gaskets on the outside walls but also suggested we caulk the gaps around the overhead light fixtures. Cold air from the attic sneaks in there, as evidenced by the pattern of cobwebs around the overhead lights in the closets. Yes, we have cobwebs, but apparently they're helpful. The pattern where they're affixed to the ceiling indicates airflow, confirming a cold air entrance point.

He asked to look at the attic, which is a cumbersome chore at our house. The small entrance is in the top of the linen closet, above the shelves full of blankets, pillows and sheets. We hauled a ladder from the garage and he managed to push open the reluctant door and take a look. Our insulation was a little thin. We should add more.

He offered to install low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators to reduce water flow and hot water usage, but we put those on ourselves.

The audit took about 1 1/2 hours. I asked what kinds of savings customers typically see; he said it depended on whether they follow the suggestions. Insulation installation and the installation of an efficient furnace provide big savings over time.

Customers who make some of the recommended improvements such as additional insulation, duct sealing, furnace replacement with heat pump or water heater replacement may be eligible for a partial rebate for their expenses. We have a gas furnace, so AEP's rebate program does not apply to us.

Any owner-occupied, single-family residence serviced by Appalachian Power and AEP West Virginia is eligible for the custom audit. The homeowner must be home during the audit. To schedule an audit appointment, call 888-446-7719.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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