Cracks around your windows, drooping or nonexistent crawl space insulation, and inefficient appliances could be contributing to your high utility bills. If you are cranking up the heat to stay warm this winter, it may be time to do an energy audit.
A coalition of community groups in Knoxville, Tenn., is taking energy efficiency initiatives to new heights, setting a goal to weatherize 1,278 homes by September 2017.
The $15 million Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover project, initiated in August, is funded by the Tennessee Valley Authority and led by a project team comprised of the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee, the City of Knoxville, Knoxville Utilities Board and the Alliance to Save Energy.
TVA made the funding available as part of a 2011 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the utility’s violations of the Clean Air Act.
“We have some pretty aggressive goals for climate mitigation: a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020,” says Erin Gill, sustainability director for the City of Knoxville. “The KEEM project stems from Smarter Cities Partnership, which was founded September 2013 and recognizes the persistent challenge of more than 10,000 families who struggle with high utility bills, which are often driven up by aging housing infrastructure.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average value of weatherization improvements is 2.2 times greater than the cost. The KEEM project targets at minimum a 25 percent reduction in energy spending for each home. The allotted upgrade costs are based on the square footage of the home.
“It is a custom experience for each house,” says Jennifer Alldredge, an education team program manager at the Alliance to Save Energy. “The auditors thoroughly examine each home and every home receives services specific to that home.”
Weatherization practices are energy efficiency measures intended to help low and middle-income residents improve their homes, reducing long-term energy costs and immediately enhancing in-home comfort.
To calculate the projected electricity savings of each home, the KEEM project coordinators use a TVA-provided data entry tool. With the homeowner’s or renter’s permission, the KEEM team collects electric bills from participating households so that TVA may measure and verify how projected savings compare to actual savings over time.
Eligible participants must reside in a single-family home or duplex at least 20 years old within the Knoxville city limits and earn a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median. The home must also have electric heat and a water heater. The KEEM program is available to renters with their landlord’s permission.
Jason Estes, director of Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee Housing & Energy Services, confirms that approximately 430 homes have already qualified and 23 audits were completed by the end of October.
Participants must pass a pre-audit and attend a free educational weatherization workshop, but “attendees don’t have to be eligible for KEEM, anyone who is interested can attend the workshops to learn tips and habits for energy efficiency,” says Alldredge, who has run 42 workshops in the first two months of the program.
The KEEM project’s ultimate goal is to benefit local families through education, increased energy efficiency and monthly utility cost reductions.
“The project empowers people through education,” says Chris Woudstra, project coordinator for the KEEM project at the City of Knoxville Office of Sustainability. “I saw a house get weatherized this weekend, and it put into perspective how small actions can have a big impact.”
The initiative also provides jobs for qualified local contractors, who are installing the upgrades once the KEEM auditors approve a participant’s home. Based on TVA’s projections, Gill noted that the KEEM project will help create approximately 120 jobs.
“Our strategy is built for creating opportunities for small contractors, who may have already been doing weatherization projects and can now make this a core component of their business,” says Gill. “They can participate in the green economy in a very real way.”