Home and garden

Creating a warm and energy-efficient home on a tight budget

By Cindy Brown
For The Taos News
Posted 11/8/18

November has already brought colder temperatures. A warm and comfortable house can make the coming winter a cozy and pleasant experience. But for those with …

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Home and garden

Creating a warm and energy-efficient home on a tight budget

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November has already brought colder temperatures. A warm and comfortable house can make the coming winter a cozy and pleasant experience. But for those with older homes that need repair, winter can be a difficult time.

Fortunately, you can do some things yourself to help reduce your energy usage, save money and also make your home more comfortable during the colder months.

In addition, programs are available in Taos County for low-income households that assist with paying utility bills and also improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Do it yourself

If you are interested in reducing your energy usage this winter and making your home snug, you can check out a booklet called “Energy Efficiency for your Home,” available on the Energy Smart Academy website at energysmartacademy.com in both English and Spanish.

The Energy Smart Academy is a program offered at Santa Fe Community College. Director Amanda Hatherly explains that homeowners can take many simple, inexpensive and safe steps themselves to make their homes more energy efficient and comfortable.

“The booklet offers approaches that are specific to our weather in New Mexico,” she says. “It also helps dispel some myths about energy efficiency. For example, if you have older windows, you might think you need to replace them, but that is not always cost effective. It might make more sense to invest in good blinds and drapes that will hold the heat in.”

The publication provides instructions on how to install weather stripping around doors and windows and points out that as much as 25-30 percent of the heat inside our homes can be lost through leaks and gaps. Other ideas are wrapping your hot water heater to insulate it, replacing light bulbs with more efficient types and installing low-flow shower heads. When it comes time to replace appliances, new more efficient dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines will save energy and money over time.

It is important to be aware of unexpected impacts from some improvements. “When sealing gaps and leaks in your house, be aware that if you make the seal tight, you may trap carbon monoxide in the home that was previously escaping,” she says. “A carbon monoxide detector can be purchased at the hardware store to help ensure safe levels.”

If you want to make changes to the heating systems in your home, Hatherly recommends hiring a professional. She points out that everything in your house works together, and a change made to any major system may have unforeseen impacts on other parts of the house.

As the booklet notes, heating can account for as much as 40 percent of a home’s annual energy bill. One of the simplest ways to lower your bill is to turn your thermostat to a cooler setting overnight while you sleep or while your family is away at home or work. Turning your thermostat down by eight to 10 degrees during these times can save you five to 15 percent on your bill, and it is easy to do if you have a programmable thermostat.

“Homes, especially older ones, use a lot of energy,” says Hatherly. “A few simple changes can produce a gold mine of energy savings. Making people more comfortable in their homes is the biggest benefit.”

Santa Fe Community College training

The Energy Smart Academy is a workforce training program offered at Santa Fe Community College. It began nine years ago, funded by two American Reinvestment Act grants.

The mission of the program is “to offer students high-quality, consistent energy efficiency and green jobs professional training throughout New Mexico; reduce energy and water use, and greenhouse gas emissions; and engage with our local community and the greater professional industry.”

People come from all over the Southwest to train at the academy. “This is the only place in the region that offers this high level of training,” says Hatherly. “We have an amazing facility with a little house inside the lab and a mobile home outside that we use in our trainings.”

Students in the program prepare for the courses by watching introductory videos before they attend the training. When they arrive at the training center for three days to a week, they receive hands-on experience in blown insulation, retrofitting existing homes with energy-efficient approaches, and conducting energy audits, among other things. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps of Taos participants have been part of the training in past years.

After training, the students are qualified to perform or inspect weatherization improvements that are often part of programs that assist low-income people.

Energy programs for low-income families

An energy audit and up to about $7,000 in repairs and weatherization are available for low-income households through the Central New Mexico Housing Corporation. This organization uses the federal funds that are allocated to each state to serve households, especially for those that have children, elderly or disabled people in the family.

The goal of the improvements is to permanently reduce the energy bills of low-income families by making their homes more energy efficient. To take a look at the qualifications for the program, visit centralnmhousing.org or call (505) 345-4949 or (855) 345-4949.

In Taos, the Members Helping Members program at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative helps people pay their energy bills. The program has been in place since 2008 and is made up of voluntary contributions from Kit Carson members and other funds approved by the Kit Carson board. To find out if you qualify, call (575) 758-2258.

Resources

For more on the Energy Smart Academy trainings, visit energysmartacademy.com or email Amanda Hatherly, director at Amanda.hatherly@sfcc.edu; phone number (505) 428-1805.

Listings of trained energy professionals can be found at Building Performance Institute at bpi.org. Energy audits can be performed for people who are not low income at a cost of approximately $500.

The University of New Mexico – Taos offers a construction technology certificate that includes weatherization and solar installation training through a series of online classes. Visit taos.unm.edu for more information.

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