Free Energy Audits Part of "Cool" Neighborhoods in Cedar Falls
The Cool Neighborhoods competition aims to reduce energy use across town.
If all the air leaks in Jill Lankford's house were put together, she'd have a hole the size of a window in her home. That's an open window, all winter long. Those leaks represent $141 of lost heat every year.
Green Iowa AmeriCorps members presented that assessment to Lankford, 54, in her Cedar Falls home Thursday night. They had just completed a "blower-door" home performance audit, involving pressure-measuring equipment, a computer and a giant fan that depressurized her home and sucked air in through leaks.
Lankford's home was actually one of the good ones, they said. They will come back and make some adjustments, probably small things like caulking around windows and fixing small holes. On an average home they audit, the volunteers can cut energy loss by about 25 percent, Rob Buchanan, 30, of Cedar Falls said.
Buchanan and volunteers Andy Sayers, 34, of Virginia, and Jessica Pond, 23, of Indiana, are part of the team that conducts the free audits and provides the free labor to make the fixes. Homeowners pay for materials used for repairs, which can range from $5 to $300 depending on what needs to be done. For low income homeowners and others, including the elderly and veterans, the materials are free. Residents who want an audit should contact the group.
The audit demonstration was part of the Cool Neighbors Energy Challenge, in which three Cedar Falls neighborhoods are competing to see which members can reduce their energy use the most.
College Hill Partnership, North Cedar and Overman Park Neighborhood Associations are participating in the contest, which kicked off in October last year and will continue through April.
“It started with an idea I had to help people learn more about energy efficiency and energy conservation," CEEE program coordinator Carol Yates said. "I think it’s important because we know reducing energy use is the right thing to do. Energy costs are going to go up. And energy efficiency conservation is the easiest and cheapest thing we can do to reduce our energy use."
To help with the cause, Cedar Falls Utilities are also offering free energy audits, which help with different areas than the AmeriCorps audits. The utilities help homeowners find areas in their homes, such as poorly insulated attics, outdated appliances and inefficient water use, that could be improved to reduce monthly energy bills. Energy auditors also bring along free compact fluorescent light bulbs, a faucet aerator that slightly decreases water flow and a low-flow shower head.
The utilities offers additional energy reduction help including a thermal flyover map of the town to show homes were energy is escaping, a list of energy saving tips and monetary rebates for purchasing energy efficient equipment.
Utility staff will track reduced energy use for the homes in the contest. Given this year's record-setting warm winter, Yates acknowledged the reductions might seem more pronounced than they would otherwise be, so it will be hard to say how much of a difference the contest has made, at least this year.
The winning neighborhood, beside gaining bragging rights, will have a float in this year's Sturgis Falls parade. Each participating neighborhood is holding monthly events.
"It's the Girl Scout cookies of the math and sciences," explained team member Bradey Wells, 17. L.E.D. bulbs are even more efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs, Bradey said, and are projected to last up to 20 years, compared to fluorescent bulbs, which last closer to five.
Gwen Dayton, 51, attended the event to learn what she could do to make her home more efficient.
"The more you know, the more you can change," she said.
Upcoming meetings are Jan. 9, 8 p.m., for the North Cedar Neighborhood Association at Sue Beach’s home, 2511 Hiawatha Road and Jan. 10, 7 p.m., for the Overman Park Neighborhood Association at Lewis Benedict’s home, 719 W. Fifth St.
To sign up for Cool Neighbors, neighborhood residents can contact Yates at firstname.lastname@example.org, 273-7599, or their neighborhood association leaders: Ann Eastman, Overman Park, 277-5884, email@example.com; Mary Smith, North Cedar, 269-7300, firstname.lastname@example.org or Joel Anderson, College Hill Partnership, 273-6228, email@example.com.
Cool Neighbors Energy Challenge sponsors include UNI CEEE, the City of Cedar Falls, Cedar Falls Utilities, Cool Congregations, and the Iowa Department of Economic Development. The program is being funded through a grant from the now defunct Iowa Office of Energy Independence, which has been absorbed by the Iowa Dept. of Economic Development.