The government has made it very affordable
By Anne Stanton
After getting a $300 bill from DTE Energy for two months in a row, I
decided to toughen up. I turned the thermostat down from 70 degrees to a
bracing 62 degrees.
The next day, my 17-year-old son came downstairs and was a little shocked
to see his breath. Brrrr! Mom! What happened to the heat?! I announced
our new energy policy: bundle up or freeze.
But the change was too drastic. Everyone caught colds. Our savings went
toward Kleenex, doctor appointments, and antibiotics for sinus infections.
I turned the thermostat up to 66 and decided on a different approach.
Enter Ric Evans, a nationally certified RESNET/BPI energy auditor, who
agreed to do an audit of our 47-year-old home.
Evans, the personable and very tall owner of Paradigm Energy Services,
teaches energy savings to the construction trade and homeowners alike at
Northwestern Michigan College. From his Charlevoix based office he
performs energy audits all across Northern Michigan.
Evans brought me some bad news and good news. The bad news was my house is
profoundly under-insulated and leaky. He made an audible gasp as he shone
his flashlight into our attic. Whoa! Only three-inches of insulation!
There should be a minimum of eight inches, preferably 18. He made a
similar gasp when shining his light on the rim and band joistthe 8-inch
wooden band encircling the basement foundation upon which the house sits.
There was no insulation there, and apparently its a notorious major heat
loss area. I asked for a ballpark estimate to insulate and seal. He
guessed about $3,000. It was my turn to gasp.
So now the good news. We wouldnt need money in the bank to make the
First, Evans energy audit was going to be almost free, and not just
because I was writing this article. Cherryland Electric Cooperative and
DTE Energy will reimburse customers for all or most of the energy audits
cost in exchange for proof of actually getting some work done. (Traverse
City Light and Power offers a $10 energy audit to customers, but its less
comprehensive - no blower door test or infrared scan.)
Additionally, DTE Energy has the best rebates with up to $2,100 available
for an audit, new furnace, and weatherization improvements. As with most
electrical providers, Cherryland Rural Electric has a much more modest
rebate program, but offers a free audit for the first 50 people who sign
up for a pilot program.
I thought, rebates are fine, but who has thousands of dollars in upfront
cashespecially nowto pay for audits and improvements? More good news. If
you are a Cherryland Electric customer, its possible to get a
low-interest loan for energy improvements and a free energy audit through
a pilot program with MichiganSaves.org - a program that aims to go
statewide soon. DTE Energy does not offer financing, but you can go to
Members Credit Union for an energy efficiency improvement loan (and you
dont have to be a credit union member).
And poor to low-middle income homeowners are eligible for an average of
$6,500 in energy saving improvements thanks to the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act, locally available through the Northwest Michigan
Community Action Agency.
Obama almost quintupled the money in the weatherization program through
his ARRA stimulus package, but I tell people they better take advantage of
it fast before the money runs out. And that goes for the various utility
rebate programs, too. Evans said.
Evans will happily guide you toward the various programsand there are
plenty out there. His final report specifies exactly how the energy
upgrades should be made and where to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Bottom line, its hard to go wrongenergy efficiency adds comfort and
Looking at my home through Evans eyes proved to be a humbling experience.
Why had I never noticed the one-foot ice dam along the back roofline, or
the frigid air blowing through my can lights in the wall, fluttering a
maze of cobwebs? Speaking of cobwebs, thats natures sign of a leaky
light fixturethe spiders find the insects easy pickings as they are blown
to and fro.
Some fixes were unbelievably easy. Both my backdoors were partially
opened. As Evans gave them an extra push, I heard a satisfying
whoomph-click. He closed the flue on my fireplace. A $20 blanket on my
water heater would pay for itself within months. A solar hot water heater
is the biggest no-brainer, even in Northern Michigan, he said.
The upstairs windows were letting in vast amounts of cold air. He
suggested caulking around the edges of the trim and weather stripping
where the bottom of the window meets the frame. New windows usually dont
make financial sense. He pointed out gaps in my storm windows; even a
1/8-inch gap causes intense leakage. Plastic on the windows can make a big
difference, and is considerably cheaper than new windows.
More suggestions: Keep the blinds down when we dont need the sunshine. A
humidifier makes the home seem more comfortable, and a fan will circulate
the air. The best insulation choice is cellulose or spray foam, which
insulates and seals.
I learned we have a good furnace, but a lot of warm air was escaping
through part of a pipe thanks to dried out and sagging duct tape. The
irony of duct tape is its useless for ducts, he said. Use mastic
Im anxious to see Evans report and find out what to do next. He said a
lot of people love to talk about saving energy, but few actually do
anything. So hows this for inspiration? Thirty to 40 percent of all
energy used in this country goes to heating and powering buildings.
If enough of us took action, we wouldnt need any new power plants. We
really wouldnt. This is almost free energy, he said.
To reach Ric Evans, call 231-237-9293. Other energy auditors include
Jeremy Truog at 922-5907, Max Strickland at 632-0930, and Burkholder
Construction. If you live out of the area, check out www.resnet.us and
www.bpi.org. Burkholder Construction and Brown Lumber can do the follow-up