Feature
Energy Well Spent
Advice from Home Energy Makeover contest winners: First, find the leaks

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    IMAGE: Photos: Will van Overbeek
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    The Feemsters gather for a family moment. From left: Tyson, Blake, Clint and Sherry. Suspended in mid-air is Jackson. Son Colby, not pictured, is serving in the military.
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    The Feemsters saved 18 percent on their electric bill after the renovations.
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    Peggy Pillar is all smiles over her home energy makeover. She and her dog, Brutus, relax by her pool with its new energy-efficient and quiet pool pump.
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    The makeover lowered Pillar's bill by 23 percent.
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    The Deskins work together and play together. From left: Jarod and Joseph, with little brother Joel, Joe, Beth and Josalin.
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    The Deskins were happy with an electric bill that dropped by 27 percent after the makeover.
    IMAGE: Will van Overbeek

It’s unanimous. All three of our Texas Co-op Power Home Energy Makeover contest winners agree that a home energy audit is a must before you start investing in energy-efficiency upgrades. They also agree that even if they hadn’t each won packages of energy-efficiency improvements, the audit alone would have been invaluable for pointing out where energy drains existed and what cost-effective, incremental steps they might take to fix them.

This is the second year for the competition. We initiated the contest as a way to move our readers from words on a page to real-life experience with saving money through energy-efficiency upgrades and practices. The lucky winners each received improvements worth up to $10,000, but a smaller, strategic investment can go a long way toward lowering your electricity bill.

The following pages present a snapshot of our winning families and details of their energy makeovers. You’ll hear them exclaim over attic insulation and sing the praises of an energy-efficient water heater. Complete case studies of the winning homes are available here.

Electricity cost comparisons for each household are based on the same 45-day, July and August time period in 2010, before the upgrades, and in 2011 after the energy efficiency makeovers. The savings are especially significant given that average daily temperatures in July and August of this year were 4 to 6 degrees higher than last year.

We hope our winners’ stories will inspire you to get started on your own energy-efficiency upgrades. And remember to enter the 2012 Home Energy Makeover contest. Be sure to register for the e-newsletter to receive information about the 2012 competition. Next year, it could be your turn.

Carol Moczygemba, executive editor

Editor’s Note: Niagara Conservation provided do-it-yourself Home Energy Efficiency Kits to each of the contest runners-up to help them begin their own home energy makeover.


Energy Sieve to Energy Saver


WINNER: The Feemster Family, members of Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative

Cost comparison before and after energy-efficiency upgrades:

July 8, 2010, to August 22, 2010—$573.14
July 8, 2011, to August 22, 2011—$471.86, with average daily temperature increase of 6.2 degrees

Savings of $101.28 or 18 percent



Why are you wasting your time with that thing?” Tyson Feemster teased his wife, Sherry, as she sat at the kitchen table filling out an application for the Home Energy Makeover contest. “He just laughed at me,” Sherry, a member of Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative, recalls with an impish side-glance at her husband.

Tyson isn’t laughing anymore. But he does have a big smile on his face. The Feemsters’ 1,650-square-foot home in Redwater, including an added-on back room, has gone from an energy sieve to an energy saver.

Professional energy assessments showed inadequate insulation throughout the nearly 40-year-old home, and an air duct with a disconnected elbow was leaking significant amounts of air into the attic. The audit also revealed that the added-on back-room enclosure was so poorly sealed it had more air leakage than the entire rest of the home. And the existing HVAC system was operating at 80 percent efficiency. As if that weren’t enough to make a person break a sweat, air was leaking from plumbing penetrations, electrical outlets and other holes in the walls, ceiling and floor.

All this information struck Sherry with an “Aha!” moment. “No wonder it was always so hot in the kitchen,” she said. It was so hot (or cold) that she couldn’t sit comfortably at the kitchen table located next to a large picture window, a favored spot to relax after a day’s work with the Texas attorney general’s Texarkana office. For Tyson, a graphic designer who recently earned a teaching certificate, it was a good place to spread out his homework. But it just wasn’t comfortable.

The discomfort was bad enough, but on top of that, one month last summer the Feemsters received a $465 electricity bill. Even their four sons going in and out of the house couldn’t use that much energy!

After the Home Energy Makeover upgrades were complete, Sherry and Tyson were amazed at how much cooler the house was and how infrequently the air conditioner cycled on.

For the Feemsters, “energy efficiency” is no longer just a phrase. They happily extol the virtues of insulation, caulking, energy-efficient appliances and compact fluorescent lightbulbs—while sipping coffee at their kitchen table.

Sponsors for the Feemster home:

Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative

Comprehensive home energy analysis: Sustainable Services, (903) 838-1014;
Aloha Aire, (903) 832-5642

Heating and cooling system:
Lennox Industries

HVAC system installed by
Industrial Air Systems, (903) 628-5276

Cellulose attic insulation:
GreenFiber, 1-800-228-0024

Insulation and air and duct sealing installed by
Sustainable Services, (903) 838-1014

Solar screen window coverings:
Sustainable Services, (903) 838-1014

Energy-efficiency kits, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads:
Niagara Conservation, 1-800-831-8383

Energy-efficiency kits installed by
Sustainable Services, (903) 838-1014

 

Come On In, the Temperature’s Fine


WINNER: Peggy Pillar, member of Bandera Electric Cooperative

Cost comparison before and after energy-efficiency upgrades:

July 8, 2010, to August 22, 2010—$317.71
July 8, 2011, to August 22, 2011—$244.48, with average daily temperature increase of 3.9 degrees

Savings of $73.23 or 23 percent



Peggy Pillar’s electric bill is nearly half of what it used to be, and it’s not because she changed her lifestyle. Or, more accurately, as Peggy, a member of Bandera Electric Cooperative (BEC), says, “My lifestyle is upgraded.”

The energy-efficiency upgrades that Peggy won in the Home Energy Makeover contest have made her 1,900-square-foot home in Boerne even more hospitable as the favorite gathering place for family events.

With her effervescent personality and generous spirit, Peggy is something of a people magnet. It’s easy to see why her large extended family would gravitate to her home. Built in 1993, the modest ranch-style house exudes coziness. But it didn’t take too kindly to crowds, especially in the hot summer months when the 18-year-old heat pump strained to keep the inside cooler than the outside. Then there was the issue of hot water. The water heater was as old as the house, and guests soon learned to nab a spot at the front of the shower line.

Peggy says she entered the Home Energy Makeover competition not expecting to win, but just because she saw it in Texas Co-op Power and remembered how much last year’s winners saved on their electricity bills after the upgrades. “I don’t just go around entering contests, but I saw it in the co-op magazine, and I’m such a believer in the co-ops, I thought I’d enter,” she recalls.

The energy audit found that more than 20 percent of the air moving through the attic duct system was lost due to leaks, holes and poor connections. More air escaped from leaks in walls around faucets and around recessed lighting fixtures in the ceiling. “It was amazing how I saw my energy use drop from the time they started sealing the leaks and replacing the insulation,” Peggy says.

The energy needle dipped even further after the installation of a new Lennox heat pump and a Rheem Marathon water heater. With BEC’s SmartWatch system, Peggy can check her daily energy use on the Internet. “It dropped from between $7 and $8 to between $4 and $5 a day once all the upgrades were complete,” she says. “I was lucky and blessed, and wow! It’s really made a difference.”

Sponsors for the Pillar home:

Bandera Electric Cooperative

Comprehensive home energy analysis: WellHome, (512) 928-4404

Heating and cooling system: Lennox Industries

HVAC system installed by WellHome, (512) 928-4404

Insulation with air sealing: WellHome, (512) 928-4404

Water heater: Rheem Marathon and Texas Electric Cooperatives

Water heater installed by Bergheim Plumbing, (210) 264-1432

Pool pump: Pentair Water Pool and Spa

Pool pump installed by WellHome, (512) 928-4404

Energy-efficiency kits, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads: Niagara Conservation, 1-800-831-8383

Energy-efficiency kits installed by WellHome, (512) 928-4404

Quality assurance inspection: Building Performance Institute, (510) 923-0264

 

Cool Air and Hot Showers


WINNER: The Deskin Family, members of United Cooperative Services

Cost comparison before and after energy-efficiency upgrades:

July 8, 2010, to August 22, 2010—$529.41
July 8, 2011, to August 22, 2011—$385.98, with average daily temperature increase of 2.1 degrees

Savings of $143.43 or 27 percent



Beth Deskin had a plan. After reading last year’s Texas Co-op Power story about the 2010 Home Energy Makeover winners, she was on the lookout for the contest announcement in 2011. “The day it opened, I sent my application online,” she said. After 18 years of marriage, her husband, Joe, was used to his wife’s creative frugality, which often involved entering contests to win practical items the family needed.

The Deskins, members of United Cooperative Services (UCS), and their four children live in Granbury in a 1,700-square-foot home built in 1988. For the past several years, they’d been saving to replace their 23-year-old heat pump, which was working so hard during this past summer of drought and triple-digit temperatures that it rarely cycled off. “Even with it running almost constantly, it didn’t get below 81 degrees in the afternoon,” Beth says.

As surprised as she was to be a winner, Beth says a UCS energy audit revealed even more surprises. The biggest shock was finding out their eight-year-old water heater accounted for almost as much energy use as their old HVAC system and provided the family with frequent involuntary cold showers. Beth beams as she reports that with the new Rheem Marathon water heater, there is hot water to spare after four showers and a load of laundry, all in one hour.

On the day of our July visit, the temperature outside was 104 degrees. I was invited to climb into the newly insulated attic. This would be the critical test. If attic insulation were truly the one heat-blasting weapon above all others, I would know it. The temperature in the Deskins’ attic was 84 degrees.

Beth confirmed the star role of insulation: “We felt it almost instantly. The house cooled down with a crisp cool air instead of the warm cool we had before.” And that was before installation of the new air conditioner.

Joe, an electrical engineer, confessed his amazement at what a difference the energy upgrades have made. “The audit showed us things we never thought about,” he said.

Sponsors for the Deskin home:

United Cooperative Services

Comprehensive home energy analysis: United Cooperative Services

Heating and cooling system: Lennox Industries

HVAC system installed by Daffan Mechanical, (817) 279-0582

Unvented attic system: BASF with Spray Foam Distributing, (817) 946-5692

Unvented attic system installed by AirTight SprayFoam Insulation of Texas, 1-866-909-FOAM (3626)

Water heater: Rheem Marathon and Texas Electric Cooperatives

Water heater installed by P&P Plumbing, (817) 558-0404

Energy-efficiency kits, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads: Niagara Conservation, 1-800-831-8383

Energy-efficiency kits installed by United Cooperative Services

Complete Case Studies

Complete case studies of the winners’ homes are available here.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

Start saving today. Contact one of this year’s participating sponsors to get started on your own home energy makeover.

Download a PDF with a list of our sponsors here.

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