PORTAL Keeps the Energy Doors Open

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner October 16th, 2008, Section A3

Last week in this column we discussed the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) Energy Rebate program, created late last spring to help homeowners make their homes more energy efficient.

This week, we’ll discuss how to make the right decisions about your home, what resources are available to help you arrange for and understand your energy ratings, and how to undertake energy efficiency changes.

Recently, Mike Musick, Energy Conservation Consultant at the PORTAL (a partnership between the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, and their public and private partners), spoke to a homeowner who had replaced windows and doors and had put additional insulation in her attic. Now she has water pouring down her windows soaking her window sills and the wall under her new windows. “She was practically in tears,” Musick said.

This problem points out the many reasons that it is very important to make a careful decision about how to renovate your home for energy efficiency. Making doors, windows and attic insulation more efficient are all excellent choices, but, as Musick said, “you must realize that a house operates as a system. When you make a change to any component of the house you will affect the performance of the rest of the house.”

After reviewing the problem with the homeowner, Musick made suggestions that would solve the short-term problem (keep the bath fan running continuously or until the windows dried out), and recommended that she place her name on the list at the PORTAL to connect with an energy rater to perform an “As-Is” energy rating on her home so that she could participate in the Home Energy Efficiency Rebate program. (See “Energy Focus,” Thursday, October 9, 2008.) An energy rater will diagnose the problems in the house.
Once you have an energy rating, you’ll be faced with many choices: What should we do first? What will AHFC pay for? Who should do the work?

At the PORTAL, you will find many resources to help you make your decisions. The organization is staffed to help homeowners get access to the AHFC energy rebate and weatherization programs. This includes help filling out paperwork, information about contractors and vendors that can do home upgrades (although the staff does not recommend individual businesses), and even advice about which project to tackle first.

In addition to one-on-one consultations, the PORTAL offers several classes that will help you with your energy upgrades. “Understanding Your Home Energy Retrofit” is a 3-hour course which briefs homeowners on the science behind weatherization and the most effective methods of improving energy efficiency. The classes are taught by experts from the Cooperative Extension Service who say it’s important that homeowners be educated about the retrofit process, whether they plan to do any of the work themselves or not.

The PORTAL is also offering a course called “Interpreting Your Energy Rating,” which helps homeowners decipher the technical language included in their energy audit reports. “This class will help you learn to prioritize the most cost-effective energy conservation measures so that you can get the best bang for your buck,” said Musick.

All in all, the hard work is worth the effort. Caring for the whole house as a system results in a healthy home and healthy occupants. Musick’s frustrated client? It’s likely the expense of installing the proper ventilation system in her home will be covered by an AHFC energy rebate. She – and her windows – will weep no more.

Please contact the PORTAL for more information on help they can offer (907) 455-4328. The PORTAL is located at 326 Driveway Street Suite 100 and is open 8:30-5:30 M-Th, Fri 10-5:30. Or contact CCHRC for information on their housing research (907) 457-3454.