Front Porch Blog

Keeping energy through the generations

Barbara and Paul Cochran, pictured in their very energy efficient home in east Tennessee. Photo by Lou Murrey.

Barbara and Paul Cochran, pictured in their very energy efficient home in east Tennessee. Photo by Lou Murrey.

“We do everything we can to keep energy,” Barbara Taylor says as she heads down the stairs to the basement of the home she has shared with her husband, Paul, in New Tazewell, Tennessee since 1980. Outside it’s a humid 78 degrees, but in the narrow basement room that houses the Taylors’ heat pump it’s cool and dry.

Standing next to a wall of canned fruits and vegetables, Barbara points to the individual pieces of rigid board insulation she has neatly cut to fit between the ceiling joists and chuckles. “See where the pipe is, I put some caulking in and put some insulation ‘round where I finally cut the hole too big.”

The duct that runs along the ceiling from the gas heat pump in the corner of the room is tightly wrapped and sealed with thick insulation and was installed with the original electric heat pump. The Taylors switched to a gas heat pump two years ago when their electric heat pump quit working. Barbara and Paul both maintain that gas was just the more affordable option, even with Powell Valley Electric’s (PVEC) heat pump financing program.

Barbara Cochran points out her energy-efficiency handiwork in her east Tennessee home. Photo by Lou Murrey.

Barbara Cochran points out her energy-efficiency handiwork in her east Tennessee home. Photo by Lou Murrey.

Barbara recalls that in the 80’s when their electric heat pump was installed they did participate in PVEC’s heat pump financing program. The interest was at 8% and the co-op asked the homeowner to do the weatherization improvements themselves before installation. When asked if they would have chosen an electric heat pump had it been more affordable, both of them said yes. “We loved our electric pump,” Barbara says.

Heading back up the stairs to where Paul is waiting on the couch in the living room, Barbara mentions that she and her son installed all the insulation behind the cedar paneling in the basement.

Before they returned to Claiborne County in the 80’s, the Taylors lived in Michigan where Paul was a millwright for the Ford Motor Company. In 1978, he suffered a fall on the job and broke his back and crushed both of his heels, so aside from the installation of the heat pump, Barbara has done the majority of the weatherization in their home. In addition to the joist and duct insulation, she has sealed the windows with caulk, put up heavy curtains on all of the windows, weatherstripped the door so well it hardly opens, and she has still found time to replace the air filter each month.

Together, Paul and Barbara have an extensive knowledge of weatherization, and without hesitation they both profess that they learned it when they were kids. “We were poor when we grew up. He comes from a family of thirteen, and I come from a family of nine,” Barbara says.

“At one time,” Paul picks up the story, “there was twelve of us living in a three room house and a lot of times when they built houses back then they would use green wood and as the wood dried out you’d have cracks in the floor where air would get in.” Thriftiness and a keen understanding of how a home performs most efficiently were just a way of life for their families.

Barbara and Paul both grew up in Claiborne County and just like how they learned to grow and process the food from the garden from their parents, it was from their parents they learned about insulating a home to save money and stay warm. Barbara describes how her mother would use old clothes and newspapers to insulate their home. Paul goes on to explain how his folks used a paste made from flour and water to plaster newspapers to the walls and prevent air leaks. “They put it [the paste] on the wood to let it stick to keep the air from coming into the house.”

The methods behind energy efficiency may have changed but the science behind those methods remain the same. You could say weatherization has become a tradition in the Taylor family, as Paul and Barbara have passed along their skills and sensible approach to using energy efficiently to their own children and grandchildren. Speaking of her children, Barbara proudly reports that in the wintertime they put heavier curtains up. Adds Paul: “They put plastic over their windows that keeps the air that seeps underneath windows, that’ll keep it from coming through.”

If anyone was wondering whether the Taylors’ weatherization efforts have paid off, it seems they have. Their electric bill is barely more than $100 a month, and has been as low as $50 in the winter and that their electric bill and gas bill combined have never been more than $200. An electric bill as low as $50 is not the norm for many people in Claiborne County acknowledges Paul. “I’ll put it this way. Our electric bill is the cheapest one in this community.”

It’s likely true that using gas as a heat source is a factor in their low electric bills, but the weatherization they have done is not only about saving money, it is also about living in a comfortable home. Paul proudly states that if they added any more insulation their ceiling would fall down. The couple recognizes that not everyone has the physical ability, knowledge or money to make weatherization improvements to their home.

Powell Valley Electric Cooperative has an opportunity to participate in a state-wide program that would make energy efficiency improvements such as those the Taylors made accessible to people of any income. The Taylors believe that this “pay-as-you save” on-bill financing program would relieve the energy burden of many people in their community.

To start a conversation with your electric cooperative about the potential for them to offer this program, call them today.

Raised in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, Lou is serving as our 2015-16 OSMRE/VISTA Tennessee Outreach Associate in Knoxville, Tenn.


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