Doing your part for city’s solar panels

September 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

I procrastinated after first having the idea to participate in a home energy audit and thereby contribute points toward Fairfield’s Hometown Rewards program — earning free solar panels for Fairfield Public Library.

Procrastination comes easily to me, so professionally, being a reporter is good — I have deadlines that make me get work done.

Daily deadlines are nice; there’s a brief period of accomplishment five days a week; a satisfied sigh of “ah … that’s done.” It’s good for my mental health.

Shortly, reality intrudes, and it’s what’s up for tomorrow?

As a renter, I don’t have control — or responsibility — for big energy items, such as age of appliances or types of windows, amount of insulation, etc.

But as I suspected, I can make some changes that save energy — and it doesn’t hurt if my utility bill is decreased, too.

And it’s fun to get free stuff.

I had the idea in March to contact Alliant Energy to request a home energy audit. It was nearly July before I dialed the number. I had to answer a few questions and one stumped me. Is the water heater gas or electric? Good question but I sure didn’t know.

I moved into this house in June. Like Kevin in the original “Home Alone,” movie, the basement is not my favorite part of the house. While the living space is bright and sunlit with expansive windows, the basement is darker. It has a lot of spider webs. I’m not a basement-lover. Hey, I grew up in a San Diego suburb, we never had a basement — and no tornados to shelter from — just earthquakes, and any sturdy doorframe will do.

I found out the landlord needs to agree to an energy audit, which makes sense as the property owner. My landlord signed off on the idea immediately. But, guess what? I procrastinated …

Near the end of August I called to set an appointment. It was easy, except for that question: Is my hot water heater gas or electric? Still hadn’t checked. It’s in the basement. I was given an appointment anyway. The phone-answerer worked around my schedule. Alliant doesn’t do energy audits after 5 p.m. weekdays or anytime on weekends.

A few days later, I received a postcard in the mail, with the time, date and the name of the person who would show up at my house to conduct the audit. Written appointment reminders are good for my mental health, too.

The day of the audit, a pick-up truck with Alliant’s logo was waiting for me. I was on time, 4 p.m., but his 2 p.m. Fairfield appointment had canceled. He told me he “waited around five hours on the Fairfield square; there’s nothing to do in Fairfield.” He lives in Burlington.

Nothing to do? My gosh, if I had a free afternoon, I’d be in a dither trying to choose between walking on the trails; visiting the library for more than a quick run-in-grab-books-run-out; sitting by one of the lakes and daydreaming; visiting the Carnegie Historical Museum; sitting at a sidewalk table sipping Paradiso coffee or entering Earth Water Tea Lounge and Pottery Shop for an equally refreshing beverage; scanning the shelves of books at Revelations and sitting down for a cup of coffee and something to eat; exploring the town on foot, entering the shops to see what’s offered; I realize shopping is not everyone’s idea of a good way to pass time but if shopping isn’t deadly to you, the town’s thrift shops are a blast and each has its own personality; walking around Maasdam Barns; visiting the Fairfield Arts Convention Center to look at artwork, the floor mosaic and visiting the gift store; exploring the campus and especially the book store at Maharishi University of Management (it is open to the public you know); and even just spending time in Central Park on the square people-watching is entertaining.

I’m sure many of you can add your own ideas, too. I’ve only been in Fairfield 20 months and have more to discover.

Nonetheless, the energy audit got under way — it was a discouraging start.

First we looked for an indoor attic access. We didn’t find one, so he could not determine the amount of insulation in the attic or recommend if it needs more.

Next, he wanted to test the amount of insulation in the walls. He needed an electrical outlet on an outside wall. We discovered together that all of the electrical outlets were positioned on wood strips that outline panels on the walls. Funny, things I hadn’t noticed before … He said outlets placed on these wood strips would not allow for measuring insulation in the walls. So, again, that was a strikeout.

All the windows are single-pane and he recommended replacing them.

However, there are storm windows here and some of my curtains are thermal lined and have worked well to block the blistering sun this summer. I am assuming they work equally well to block frigid temperatures.

Things improved after that. I found out I have an energy-efficient rated furnace. The air-conditioner is in good shape.

While down in the basement, he said he’d tell me if my water heater is gas or electric — that looming question. But after viewing the furnace, he looked around and said, “Where is the hot water heater?”

What? I couldn’t see it either, but I was pretty sure I had seen it during my first week of residence when exploring all the nooks and crannies. And I certainly used hot water.

With another light switch flipped on, I saw it — just where I last remembered it … hiding behind a brick pillar near the old coal room doorway.

It’s a gas water heater. He indicated on the checklist it did not need replacing, so it must be energy efficient also.

He recommended on a checklist the refrigerator and washing machine be replaced, a recommendation given to any appliance 10 years old or older.

Good news to owners: refrigerators and washers can earn a payment for being recycled and Alliant includes rebate forms in the kit left after the audit for purchasing new appliances.

The free stuff? I have three water faucet nozzles — shower head, bathroom sink and kitchen sink — with flow reducing nozzles that don’t feel like any less water pressure than before, installed during the audit. I got six compact fluorescent light bulbs.

My very favorite item I’ve saved for last. The thermostat in the house was one of those old round ones that get turned for dialing the temperature. It’s hard to determine what the temperature in the house is on one of those – at least it’s been difficult for me.

A programmable, digital-read thermostat replaced it. My eyes are happy.

Go ahead, don’t procrastinate. Let Alliant provide you with free stuff and tips on saving money. Your participation in a free home energy audit also goes toward earning those free solar panels for Fairfield Public Library.


Diane Vance is a Ledger staff writer.


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