Living Green: Batten Down the Hatches

Editor’s Note: In this issue, we launch a monthly column about what people can do practically to reduce their carbon footprints in the effort to slow climate change, as well as to reduce pollution. Krystal Ford is a resident of Garrison and the coordinator for the Philipstown Climate Smart Community program.

My house isn’t old — it was built in 1984 — but its drafts were strong. Over the first five winters, I never felt warm, even with the thermostat turned up. When we got the oil bill, it added insult to injury.

Unfortunately, many of us suffer from the same problem: under-insulated homes that are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

I often hear from people who are looking to do the right thing for the environment, and to save money, want to put solar panels on their roof. And while I support solar as an alternative energy, I wouldn’t start there. I would end there.

The first step to a more energy-efficient home is not sexy or sleek: it is identifying where you are losing energy and weatherizing. And it can make a difference in your pocketbook and the community: How we heat our homes and businesses accounts for the second-highest source of carbon emissions in Philipstown. The first is on-road transportation.

A blower door test

Four years ago, we decided to order a home energy audit through a federal program called Healthy Homes Energy and Consulting. I found them through the state website listing home energy auditors. A contractor came out and did what is known as a blower-door test (he sealed everything off, then ran a fan out one door to locate air leaks); used an infrared camera to locate heat loss; checked the air quality; and presented us with a report with recommendations.

(Not every contractor can do the blower-door test, and it wasn’t part of the free audit. We spent $250 to have it done, but we thought it was worth it for the extra information.)

With our report in hand we decided the best money-for-value was insulating the attic, spray foaming the crawl space and sealing up cracks.

It worked. We felt much more comfortable. We didn’t feel the drafts like we used to and the temperature held more evenly. It also reduced our oil bill by about a third.

I will be the first to admit, it can seem overwhelming. It helps to have someone to walk you through it. A great resource called Mid-Hudson Energy Choices provides free help to residents and businesses. I asked a few questions recently of Collin Adkins, one of their community energy advisers.

Is there a hierarchy of doing stuff in the house? Big ticket item-wise?
Basic energy improvements to the building envelope, like insulation and air-sealing, are often overlooked but are still to this day some of the best bang for your buck. Once your home is consuming less energy, big-ticket items like a heat pump or solar panels become a much savvier investment. The 1-2-3 punch to a cleaner, greener, cozier home is: 1) energy efficiency upgrades; 2) electrify your heating and cooling with air- or ground-source heat pumps; 3) generate your own clean energy with solar photovoltaic panels.

Some of the recommended upgrades sound expensive. Is there financing?
Lower-income homeowners and renters can receive $5,000 to $10,000 in home energy upgrades through the state. Or there is low-cost financing available for a range of upgrades, including envelope improvements, heat pumps and solar panels.

What sort of feedback do you get from people who do this?
The people who invest in upgrades are often surprised at all the other benefits besides the dollar and energy savings. It’s not uncommon to hear that they feel more comfortable, healthier, more optimistic. In that way, upgrades can be a gateway to some truly remarkable transformations.

Residents of Putnam and Dutchess counties can reach a community energy adviser at MidHudsonEnergyChoices.org or by calling 845-677-8223.

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