The heat is on! With power plants delivering reliable energy and air conditioning keeping us cool, thank the ingenuity and hard work of the people who provide these modern conveniences. Heating and air conditioning ranks high on my list, right beside other technological friends such as trucks, grocery stores, the Internet and cell phones.
These things we often take for granted — at least until the moment they stop working, or begin to thin wallets. Unless you live at the beach, where new units are eaten and quickly corroded in as little as five years by salty air, a service call and tune-up may be all that’s needed. But what do you do when the HVAC technician confirms that the system is working properly and your home is still uncomfortable, the air is moldy stale, or the electricity bill is still through the roof?
In terms of high energy bills, the poor and elderly on low, fixed-incomes are certainly affected, but with our economy struggling to adapt to a new era of global competition, more of the middle-class also feels the pinch. Residents under municipal electric utilities paying a higher rate (e.g. Lumberton, Red Springs) know this well.
Professional energy auditors diagnose problems, recommend affordable solutions and help you develop an action plan — whether it’s simple do-it-yourself projects or hiring the right specialist.
But to think of your home’s performance upgrade strictly in terms of energy savings misses the wider scope of benefits. An energy auditor is a trained and certified building scientist — or what I think of as the 21st century home inspector. They take the “house-as-a-system” approach when analyzing problems that pertain to the home’s health, comfort, and safety. This may include: carbon monoxide spillage; moisture problems; mold; excessive dust; gas leaks; poor air quality; uncomfortable rooms; high energy bills; and other issues.
Personally, I’m far more concerned with the air my pregnant wife is breathing from our moldy old asbestos-piped crawlspace below. Sure, I save a kilowatt dollar when I can, but I guarantee you that I’ll be spray-foaming to define my air barrier long before I replace windows with over-marketed Low-E sashes.
Knowing that 60 percent of the first-floor air you breathe in most homes comes from the crawlspace, or, that nearly 30 percent of homes in our region have detectable gas leaks may help to explain the cause of certain health problems.
So whether it’s high energy bills or poor air quality, there are local professionals that can help. Energy auditors and some traditional HVAC contractors have fine-tuned their services and incorporated new methods to help boost your home’s performance, and its ability to beat the heat.
Success stories have become routine from the Weatherization Program that Four County Community Services administers. Eligible to families in need, the program helps make homes more energy efficient through air sealing, insulation and education.
According to John Spence, program manager, they have “completed over 900 of 1,550 homes … and furnished heat and air conditioning systems and repairs to nearly 400 homes.” The program serves a larger seven-county region and will end on March 30, 2012.
Fran Meinert’s home was one of those 900 success stories. A Council of Government Board member of Parkton, Mr. Meinert achieved a 30 percent reduction in his utility bill following a home performance upgrade by one of the program’s weatherization contractors.
Home performance services are common in the more urban areas where renovation and remodeling strategies for older homes encompass more than just a facelift. Now, residents of our region have the same services available from local contractors.
The Lumber River Workforce Development Board continues to partner with our region’s community colleges and motivated construction professionals. Visit our Facebook page for a list of contractors and auditors that participate in these initiatives, as well as other practical resources for homeowners.
If you are interested in training opportunities leading to certifications within these specialized fields, scholarships are still available. An intensive, hands-on, threee-day BPI training (Building Performance Institute) will be taking place this week at Richmond Community College’s Honeycutt Center in Laurinburg. Please call (910) 272-5078 or email Ryan.Nance@LRCOG.org to inquire.
— Ryan Nance is member of the Workforce Development staff, which is a division of the Lumber River Council of Governments.