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Rural Missouri Magazine

The great home energy efficiency makeover!
White River Valley Electric Cooperative
reduces one member’s bill by more than 40 percent

by Bob McEowen
White River’s Manager of Member Services Jeff Pardeck discusses the home’s new high-efficiency heat pump system with homeowner Rick Hayes. The project resulted in average savings of 44 percent off Rick’s monthly electric bill.

On a blustery day in December 2006, a massive blower placed in the front door of Rick and Sam Hayes’ Ridgedale home drew air throughout the home while technicians checked for leaks and drafts. Later, another crew aimed an infrared camera at the structure, locating “hot spots.”

The elaborate tests reveal defects that waste energy and rob the home of comfort. The results were no surprise to the homeowners, though. In the year before the co-op selected their house for an energy-efficiency makeover, Rick and his wife had spent more than $2,000 on electricity bills.

“It was $300 or more some months,” Rick says. “There were times I couldn’t pay it all.”

The Hayes’ home was an ideal subject for an experiment White River Valley Electric Cooperative wanted to conduct. The idea was simple: select a house and make practical, common sense improvements to increase the home’s energy efficiency. The lessons learned could then serve as an example for other homeowners.

Representatives of White River Valley Electric Cooperative and its Operation Round Up program pose for a photograph with homeowners Rick and Sam Hayes at the start of the project. Sadly, Sam, shown second from left, succumbed to cancer shortly after the project began.

“We have always talked about energy efficiency,” says Jeff Pardeck, member services manager at the Branson-based electric cooperative. “Our board of directors, about a year ago, decided it was time to show what we talk about. Let’s go out there and show the things that the average homeowner can do to reduce their bill.”

Wanting to tie the project to its Operation Round Up community assistance program, the co-op reviewed the recipients of previous aid in search of a suitable homeowner.

Rick and Sam Hayes had received money from the program’s scholarship fund to help with their son’s education expenses. Rick was a former railroad worker who had undergone a series of back surgeries. Sam, his wife, had a history of cancer and was experiencing a relapse. Try as they might to make ends meet, Rick and Sam lived on the edge, financially.

“We were just struggling along,” Rick says. “Her income, plus $40 of my check, was going just to pay insurance.”

The couple’s 1,400-square-foot manufactured home was equally deserving of a helping hand.

Although basically in good shape, the 18-year-old, all-electric house had a few obvious problems. The air conditioner struggled to cool. The forced-air furnace was inefficient and did not deliver heat evenly to all rooms of the house. The couple’s appliances showed their age as well.

For Rick and Sam it was home, and all they could afford — they simply accepted that it was not particularly efficient. “It was a good house,” Rick says, “but I just figured the electric bills were going to be high from now on.”

The co-op set out to prove him wrong. On Nov. 20, 2006, representatives of White River Valley Electric Cooperative and its Operation Round Up board, showed up at the Hayes’ front door with bouquets of balloons in hand and a video crew in tow to officially launch the co-op’s home energy-efficiency makeover project.

Employees of D&B HVAC Systems of Branson install insulated solid ductwork underneath a home owned by Rick Hayes of Ridgedale. The Hayes home was selected by White River Valley Electric Cooperative to receive a home energy efficiency makeover.

With the exception of an in-studio interview of the couple, the footage shot that day provides Sam’s only appearance on the video White River produced to document the project. On Jan. 14, 2007, Sam succumbed to cancer. Two months later, the project reconvened — “what Sam would have wanted,” Rick says.

The makeover of the Hayes home included a few big-ticket expenditures for appliances and new heating and air-conditioning equipment. It also involved addressing small details that wasted energy.

The costliest item — and the one responsible for the greatest efficiency gains — was a new, high-efficiency heat pump to replace the home’s outdated forced-air furnace. The more efficient system cost at least $1,000 more than a long-overdue replacement, but it will pay great dividends in lower energy costs.

Likewise, an aging water heater was removed and a modern, ultra-efficient Marathon replacement installed. The Marathon’s heavily insulated plastic tank greatly reduces heat loss and is guaranteed to never rust or leak.

A new clothes dryer and high-efficiency Energy Star-rated washer replaced the appliances Rick and Sam bought second-hand when they moved into their home. Likewise, the couple’s aging refrigerator and freezer were hauled off and Energy Star units installed in their place.

“His old refrigerator probably cost him $15 a month,” Pardeck says, estimating the appliance’s energy consumption. “This one is probably costing him $5 a month.”

Equally impressive savings were realized by replacing Rick’s old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescent bulbs. According to the U.S. government, each bulb will save about $30 in energy costs throughout its expected seven-year life.

With the energy hogs replaced, the makeover team turned to the house itself. Crumpled and torn flexible ducts under the home were replaced with solid metal, insulated ductwork. Gaps around windows and doors were sealed with caulk. Surprisingly, one of the biggest air infiltration culprits was found inside the house, along a center beam where the two halves of the manufactured home joined.

Rick prepares a load of laundry in an Energy Star high-efficiency clothes washer provided by White River Valley Electric Cooperative. The co-op also supplied an Energy Star refrigerator and freezer. To earn the Energy Star designation, appliances must surpass the energy efficiency of conventional units by 15 percent or more.

“That’s something people don’t think about because it’s not an exterior wall,” Pardeck says. “But that’s where the worst leaks were and where we tightened up the house the most.”

Surprisingly, there were improvements the team did not make. The makeover team determined that replacing windows was not justified. And while they would have liked to have added insulation, they saw no way to gain access to the attic.

Even without additional insulation, the results of the Hayes home makeover were dramatic.

Rick has seen his electricity bills drop dramatically. In March 2007, the first month following the project’s completion, his bill was $101, compared to $176 one year before. While year-to-year comparisons don’t take into account weather and other factors, the consistency of Rick’s savings is remarkable.

“We’ve saved, on average, around 44 percent,” Pardeck says. “The worst month we’ve had to date was 28 percent. The best month was 55 percent.

“If you’re, at the worst, going to save 28 percent, that’s huge.”

It’s possible that the savings will be even more dramatic in winter, when a heat pump’s greater efficiency really shines. Even if the percentage of savings stays the same, Rick should really appreciate the greater efficiency in winter, when his bills often topped $300 running his old system.

The total bill for the makeover was about $8,000, which was paid in part by the co-op, but also with donations of labor and materials. Homeowners facing similar costs can take comfort knowing that an enegy efficiency makeover will eventually pay for itself in savings on electricity bills.

Remarkable to Pardeck is the fact that the project involved only common-sense upgrades. “We weren’t out there knocking down walls,” he says.

White River’s Manager of Member Services Jeff Pardeck looks on as homeowner Rick Hayes checks his meter.

“The things we did were pretty basic,” Pardeck says. “It’s the stuff that we’ve been preaching for years. It’s nothing the average homeowner, if the funding is there, can’t go out and do.”

Although the makeover of the Hayes family home was marked by the tragedy of Sam’s death just as the effort began, the project itself was a success. Rick Hayes has a more comfortable and affordable home and White River Valley accomplished its goal. It took an average member’s home and showed that simple steps will reduce energy use and lower the monthly electricity bill.

A video chronicling the makeover was shown at the cooperative’s annual meeting and is available to all members interested in the project. A longer version will be aired on a local television station this fall. Co-op representatives say they hope that the lessons learned at the Hayes’ home will translate into similar projects at other members’ homes.

“People call up and they want to know what they can do to lower their electric bill,” Pardeck says. “I don’t know how we make it any clearer than to show them."

 

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

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