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Fire Starter

Posted on 26 November 2010

By Karl Grossman

I started a fire with a few small pieces of wood on a cold night last week and the house became roaring hot. Up to now, it’s taken a full load in the airtight wood stove to heat our house in Noyac. What happened? The words are energy efficiency.

This was a first-hand experience in something I’ve written about for years. I’ve stressed energy efficiency in books, TV programs and newspaper and magazine pieces. But until last week, I didn’t appreciate it fully.

Last year we installed rooftop solar photovoltaic panels — which ever since have been providing all the electricity we need — and also solar thermal panels that heat our water. Then I ran into Chuck Schwartz, director of LI Green, who queried me about whether we also had an “energy audit” done on the house. New technologies have arrived not only to precisely measure the energy use in a house but to tighten it up and make it highly energy-efficient, even a century-old saltbox house like ours.

Mr. Schwartz paid a visit to provide an overview. In our house, and he said this is common, large amounts of cold air get in between where the sill plate, the bottom level of wood framing, meets the foundation. Insulation and “air sealing” are key to solving this problem, he said. He also suggested other fixes involving heat and also electric use.

Mr. Schwartz, of Southampton, began LI Green in 2007 as part of research, he recounts, at a business incubator project at Stony Brook University. “We asked: making houses energy efficient doesn’t cost much money, is good for the planet, good for the family, good for the economy — but why is it not getting done widely?”

So he launched LI Green — which has gotten funding from governments, foundations and environmentally-concerned companies — to “on a one-to-one basis” educate people on how they can make their homes energy-efficient. With relatively simple fixes, a 40 percent reduction in energy use is possible, he said. LI Green has made thousands of home visits. Give a call to LI Green at 631-721-1908 to have one.

He also provides a list of Long Island companies which do detailed home energy audits and put together a menu of steps that you can then take. From Mr. Schwartz’s list, we picked Green Audit USA in Huntington. Sean Reed, its chief energy auditor, was soon over with equipment including an infrared camera that measures heat and a “blower door” which creates a light vacuum within a house that enables air leaks to be readily found.
We chose what we wanted to have done. A crew came out and the work was completed quickly. When you live in a house for years, you can feel the way it kind of breathes. We’ve lived in our place for 36 years and now, suddenly, it’s well-sealed. The cost was $3,000.

Residential energy efficiency has become a major campaign on Long Island. Huntington and Brookhaven Towns are using federal stimulus money to encourage it. Babylon Town has an ambitious “Green Homes Program” offering low-interest loans. Southampton Town aims to utilize a new state initiative, Green Jobs Green New York, also for low-interest loans. Federal tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements have been available. There are a number of utility rebate programs.

Jay Best, founder of Green Audit USA, and like Mr. Schwartz, an environmental engineer-turned-energy efficiency crusader, comments that the variety of programs available on Long Island is somewhat “confusing.” To try to alleviate that and, in general, promote residential energy efficiency, the Suffolk Legislature last year created a 17-member Suffolk County Local Home Energy Efficiency Task Force.

The measure was introduced by Vivian Viloria-Fisher, chair of the Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Energy efficiency is so important — it’s good for the environment and it saves people money,” said Ms. Viloria-Fisher last week. “It works.”

Yes, it does­and well.

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