It’s hot. I am sure that you all understand, but let me remind you that I am nine months pregnant, so I get a little more leeway to complain. To top it off, my biggest source of guilt as an environmentalist is that my house is very energy inefficient.
My family and I moved into our house a little over five years ago. It was our dream house – an A-frame cabin with almost nine wooded acres. I loved that we were close to Lexington, but isolated enough that we don’t have blinds and you can’t see our house from the road.
My daughter was less than a week old when we moved in, a situation I would never wish on my worst enemy, but that is a story for a different time. My husband and I were so in love with the house that we probably did not think through all of the details. All we cared about was moving into a house we had coveted for over a year.
For some reason, the fact that the house was essentially built as a cabin, and only recently turned into a year-round house, did not faze us. We had central heat and air and a gorgeous stone fireplace in the living room. What else could you want? Little did I know how important heat was.
After the first winter huddled in a back room with a kerosene heater, we realized we needed help. The stone fireplace did nothing; in fact I think that it sucked what little warm air was in the living room right up the chimney. And our central heating could not keep up at all, and would essentially run all day without getting the house above 62 degrees.
The first thing we did was get an energy audit from our electric provider. Kentucky Utilities came out and using something called a blower door, assessed how much air was leaking in or out of the house. The blower door is a really amazing tool. It sucks air through your house so fast that you can walk around and feel where it is coming in. Then they recommended caulk, lots of caulk. I laughed. We had paid $600 a month for our electricity, and they thought I should spend $20 on caulk to fix our problems!
Because I was skeptical about the “easy fix,” the next step was calling a work-related friend to come in and assess what we could do. His company specialized in energy audits and energy-efficiency work. He also used a blower door AND recommended a lot of caulk.
Since we had now heard this twice, my husband spent hours and hours that fall caulking everything in sight. I am not sure he believed that what he was doing was worthwhile; after all, it was just cheap caulk and elbow grease. However, we did a blower door again after the marathon caulking, and found a HUGE decrease in the amount of air that was infiltrating our home.
We did a few other things as well, including sealing our ducts and insulating our small attic and kneewalls. All for less than $1,000.
With the caulk and the few other things we did, our electric bill went from $600 to $400 at the peak. But before you claim a warm winter was the reason, look at your electric bill. There should be a section that states the average temperature for the billing time. The monetary savings we experienced was comparing very similar average temperatures, so the savings should be pretty accurate.
We are obviously not beyond our energy-efficiency problems, but we have made a significant dent. Unfortunately, I don’t think our house will ever get an energy star seal of approval, but we are working hard to be comfortable and reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.
Winter is the time that we experience the most inefficiency, but this past weekend filled with 100-plus degree days reminds me that work still needs to be done, especially when the power goes out.
Friday night my daughter and I had to camp out in the living room on the ground floor to try to not sweat to death. Thankfully the power went out at night, and not in the middle of the day, but it is amazing how fast a house, especially ours, can lose cool air.
The good news is that we woke up at 3 a.m. and while settling down to try to go back to sleep, despite being drenched in sweat, my daughter noticed a star out the window. She carefully recited the “Star Light, Star Bright” poem and wished our power would come on. And it did, instantly. I have had many offers from friends wanting to rent her out to make wishes on the lottery, but have decided to use her power for good. Those who want to make their house more energy efficient, give her a call!
Click here for more information about scheduling an energy audit or here to watch videos on simple ways to make your home more energy efficient.
Amy Sohner is executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with PRIDE since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, 5-year-old daughter and a multitude of pets.