“Your house,” he said solemnly, “Leaks like a sieve.”
“…and that would be….good?” I asked, a bit anxiously.
“Kinda depends on what you’re hoping for, Cynthia,” he grinned, “What it means right now is that your house could probably benefit from additional weatherization.”
We were standing in my front hall, watching my house get depressurized. Jesse-the-greenguy had opened my front door wide, sealed it off with frame-stretched fabric, then stuck a giant fan in the bottom, facing out. He’d added some fancy pressure reading thingees to the doorway. The outside windows and doors were closed; the inside were open, and we had turned off the air conditioner. (mind you, it was 95 bloody degrees outside)
The fan was intended to suck the air out of the house, so that the leaky parts of the house had an opportunity to suck air IN, creating a breeze, and give him some idea of how well the house was sealed. We immediately noticed a kind of wind tunnel effect from the bedroom; I was suffering from leaky windows. I’m also, apparently, air-conditioning the crawl space under my house, and part of the attic. (oops)
I should probably explain: I’m participating in Portland’s Energy Trust program, which helps people reduce residential energy usage. I got a notice in the mail last month and, curious, applied online. After answering a bunch of questions about the length of my showers and what kinds of light I like, they decided my house was worth investigation.
As a first step, they sent Jesse-the-greenguy out to do a “whole house audit.” It takes about four hours, and it’s a reasonably intense examination of your house, top to bottom, to see if it qualifies.
Apparently, mine does. “From the looks of things, you could reduce your electric and gas bills by about 20-30 percent if you replace these old windows,” he confirmed. It wasn’t all THAT surprising; in winter I sometimes enjoy the breeze blowing from the (closed) windows.
He brought lots of gadgets, including a very cool infrared camera that showed, among other things, missing insulation around my recessed ceiling lights (oops again). I could potentially save more energy by going to solar panels, “but it would take so long to recoup your investment that it’s not really part of this package.”
Jesse hails from the midwest, where there were no jobs when he graduated. “So they told me Intel was hiring out in Oregon, I came out here and–whoosh–I had a job. Just like that. It was great, and I sorta fell in love with this part of the country.”
He worked for Tektronix for awhile, didn’t get a coveted promotion, “And I decided I’d rather make a difference, maybe make the world a little bit greener. So I trained up on this stuff, got my general contractor’s license, and now I’m doing it, house by house.”
“I need to count your light fixtures,” he said, “Can you point out the ones that use CFC bulbs?”
(Uhm…that ONE over there.) “Just the one? All the rest of these are incandescent?”
He gave me a reproachful look, made some additional notes. (OK, so I work–a lot–with shift glasses that change color in different wavelengths of light. If I switch to fluorescent an entire wall of bronze glass will go lime green. I’m not kidding.)
“They’re making color-balanced CFCs and LEDs. You might want to look into those, Cynthia.”
Upshot: It seems that I’m one of those nasty fatcat high-carbon footprint jerks whose old house is sucking up other people’s power. Jesse will send me (and the city) a detailed report listing potential areas for improvement and estimated costs, and the tax credits, rebates, low-interest loans and other things the city, county, state and feds will make available should I choose to do all (or part of) this stuff.
“Nobody does ALL of it,” he assured me, “but if I were you, I’d definitely think about windows, and maybe sealing off that crawlspace. And you could probably benefit from increasing the attic insulation to R-39, but the savings won’t be as dramatic as those windows.”
So I’m thinking that my planned master bathroom remodel is gonna wait another couple of years, while I focus on greening up the house.