Assistance programs help customers cut energy usageWritten by Kristen Criswell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Columbia Gas of Ohio is offering customers assistance in reducing their gas bills through its new energy assistance program.
The program, Home Performance Solutions, starts with a home energy audit that identifies energy leakages within a home. Customers receive an audit report breaking down the problems and listing the estimated costs of repairs and estimated annual savings of the repairs. Customers who make suggested renovations using pre-qualified contractors are eligible for rebates.
“We’ve created a number of programs to help people use less gas, and the first step is figuring out where they need the help,” said Chris Kozak, communications and community relations manager at Columbia Gas of Ohio. “We identify where the leaks are and then we know what sort of steps need to be taken to lower gas usage.”
Approximately 20 percent of a person’s gas bill is delivery costs, while 80 percent is price of the commodity, Kozak said. Home Performance Solutions is aimed at helping customers attack the largest portion of their gas bill, he said.
Columbia Gas customer Mary, who requested her last name not be used, had an audit performed on her 1950s-built home earlier this year. Following the audit, Mary made suggested repairs to her home to help lower her gas bill, she said.
While Mary can’t determine her savings yet, as it’s just getting colder, her house has been holding its temperature, she said.
“It’s about the same all during the day and night even when it’s warm or it’s cold. Before it was on and off, on and off,” Mary said. “I would highly suggest [the program]. I think people are very silly not to follow the suggestions because over the years the gas has gone up and the electric has gone up, why not try this? It’s worthwhile.”
Home energy audit
During a home energy audit, an energy auditor from Conservation Services Group (CSG) inspects a home and performs a number of energy efficiency tests.
Tim Yenrick, executive director of the American Red Cross Greater Toledo Area Chapter, had a home energy audit performed Oct. 8 to see what improvements could be made to his 1927 house. Yenrick paid the full fee for the audit.
“It’s an older house so we’re always putting money into it. If this is a way to save a few dollars in the long run, I’m interested in it,” Yenrick said.
The energy auditor began his examination of Yenrick’s home looking at walls using an infrared thermography camera. The camera helps measure differences in temperature, identifying areas of walls that lack insulation, said Justin Reed, energy auditor for CSG.
“There is no insulation or little insulation in the wall with color changes on the screen,” he said.
The camera can also help identify areas of the home that may suffer leakage from the outside, Reed said. After completing a walk-through of the home with an infrared camera, Reed examines the attic, storage space and basement for energy inefficiencies.
“I check for areas where wires run into the attic or pipes into the attic. I look at areas like the chimney chase,” he said. “I also look at the venting of the attic — it needs to be ventilated to allow heat and moisture to leave the attic area. Obviously, I look at if the insulation is there and how deep the insulation is.”
Reed said insulation needs to be at least 10 inches thick to meet code and the more compressed insulation is, the lower its R-value, meaning less efficiency. Throughout the inspection, an auditor would note the lack of insulation and leakages for later tests within the house and for input into a computer following the audit, Reed said.
The next step in the home energy audit is examining the gas lines, furnace and water heater for gas leakages and checking the gas stove and oven for carbon dioxide output.
“We check to make sure [the burners] are not putting out a high level that could be hazardous to the occupants,” Reed said. “We don’t want anything to put high levels of CO2, when we’re recommending making everything tighter.”
In Yenrick’s home, a small leak was found on a gas pipe entering his basement, and Columbia Gas was called out that afternoon for repairs.
“There are no minor gas leaks and any we find we’ll send someone out right away to repair,” Kozak said, noting that home energy audits can improve a home’s safety.
The last portions of the home energy audit are the blower door test and testing the efficiency of the water heater and furnace.
During the blower door test, negative pressure of 50 pascals is created throughout the house, Reed said. By measuring the cubic feet of air per minute at that pressure, the amount of leakages within the home can be determined, he said. While the house has negative pressure, tests on the water heater and furnace are performed.
Following an audit, a computer analyzes the cost-effectiveness of making upgrades and the auditor provides a list of pre-qualified contractors to work on the house.
Yenrick found the audit helpful and hopes to implement some of the suggestions made, he said.
“We’ve already called three contractors and all three of them are coming in and making bids,” Yenrick said. “They did a thorough job. The programmable thermostat was well worth the time and effort.”
Through Home Performance Solutions, the home energy audit, a $500 value, is only $50. Those who participate in the home energy audit qualify for up to four energy efficient shower heads and a programmable thermostat, which will be installed the day of the audit.
The shower heads and thermostat have an estimated savings of up to $180 a year. The energy efficient shower heads save 2,737 to 3,650 gallons of water a year per person, saving on water bills as well, Kozak said.
Repairs and rebates
Rebates are available for customers who use pre-qualified contractors to make suggested energy-saving renovations. Each rebate amount depends on the work being performed and the number of suggested repairs being made, Reed said. Customers can qualify for rebates of up to 60 percent of the cost.
Individuals who have the home energy audit are welcome to use their own contractors, but won’t be eligible for rebates on the repairs.
In addition, from now until the end of the year, if customers complete a recommendation that appears on their energy audit within 30 days, they can receive $250 from Columbia Gas, Kozak said.
Free energy audits and repairs are available for those who qualify through Neighborhood Housing Services and Columbia Gas’ Warm Choice program.
Individuals and families with an income under 200 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify. For more information, visit www.nhstoledo.org.
Currently, there is a four-to-five-week wait for a home energy audit in Toledo, Kozak said.
First Energy does not offer an in-home audit, but has a free online tool that Toledo Edison customers can use to find ways to save energy. Customers can visit www.energysaveohio.com and use their Toledo Edison bill to access a self-audit, said Mark Durbin, First Energy spokesman.
“It’s a handy online tool. You enter what your house is like and plug in information and it can tell how much energy you’re using and how you can save money,” he said.
For more information, visit www.columbiagasohio.com/hps. To schedule a home energy audit, call 1-877-644-6674.
Let us help you cut your energy costs!
Columbia Gas of Ohio and Toledo Free Press are teaming up to help you save money with a special mail-in insert deal.
For $5, individuals will receive an energy-saving programmable thermostat valued at $80. Details will be published in the Oct. 24 Toledo Free Press and will be available online through www.toledofreepress.com, www.twitter.com/toledofreepress and www.facebook.com/toledofreepress.