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Free money! Energy audit helps residents cut utility costs

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

With high inflation rapidly increasing prices on just about everything from food to rent, it’s always welcome when someone wants to help you save some money, particularly on monthly expenses like utility bills.

Through a new program called Efficient San Gabriel Valley, both homeowners and renters can request a free residential evaluation to identify where they are wasting energy.

Any resident of the 31 cities in the San Gabriel Valley or its unincorporated areas, including Claremont, can request an audit and receive a detailed report through a partnership between the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and Southern California Regional Energy Network.

“The assessments review the whole house approach to energy efficiency, which means making sure each part of your home is as efficient as possible,” according to Efficient San Gabriel Valley advertising material.

Claremont resident Riki Wolf holds her grandson Mateo Medak in the kitchen of the home she shares with her husband Ken Wolf. Recently the couple had a free energy audit of their home under a new program called Efficient San Gabriel Valley. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

On the day of the assessment, which can be conducted in person or online, staff will ask a series of questions to help identify ways to improve a home’s energy efficiency. Staff will compile the information gained through the evaluation and send a personalized action plan, including resources and rebate information, within seven days.

The assessment covers building materials, lighting, appliances, electronic devices, water usage, heating and cooling. The program began in April, but so far there have been only a few requests, so the organization would like to spread the word about the free evaluations.

On Tuesday, San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments employees Vanessa Guerra and Johanna Read performed an energy assessment for Claremont resident Riki Wolf. The pair went through a checklist, asking Wolf detailed questions about energy use habits, age and type of appliances, as well as any energy efficient upgrades that have already been installed.

Wolf and her husband Ken, who have lived in their home on Northwestern Dr. since 2003, had already implemented a few energy upgrades, including new windows, a whole house fan, and replacing their lawn with more water-efficient plantings. However, Wolf said their electric bill can be quite high this time of year, much of it due to cooling the 2,500-square-foot home.

Wolf said their thermostat was seldom lower than 78 degrees and the couple tries to focus on cooling rooms they use most frequently. During the evaluation, Read asked about the age of the HVAC system and whether it had an Energy Star rating, meaning it was among the most efficient air conditioning models. She also suggested checking weather stripping on windows and doors.

Other suggestions for Wolf’s home included upgrading indoor lighting to LED, using stand-alone solar powered outdoor lighting and cleaning condenser coils on the back of their refrigerator annually.

One suggestion Wolf found enlightening was purchasing a power strip that could be turned off, so that unused electronic devices aren’t chewing up power.

To save on natural gas, Guerra suggested turning down the hot water heater to 120 degrees and to be “laundry smart” by never washing loads of laundry that are too large or too small. She also recommended a tankless water heater when the Wolfs decide to upgrade.

Technology can also assist in the effort, including use of a home area network which connects the customer’s energy monitoring device to a smart meter. This allows residents to remotely monitor energy use through an app, providing real time feedback on which appliances are using the most energy. The devices cost about $100, but Edison is currently offering a rebate, according to Read. Water flow monitors are also available.

The Wolf household already uses water very efficiently, with the entire backyard garden that Riki Wolf called “the farm,” on a drip system, and its three toilets being low-flow models. The energy auditors suggested keeping the depth of the garden’s mulch at three to six inches to slow down evaporation around plants and trees.

After about half an hour, the Efficient San Gabriel Valley team had all the information they needed and packed up to leave. Read, whose background is in environmental science, said they would sit down and process the information as soon as possible and hoped to send out a personalized action plan within several days.

Guerra, who has a degree in business administration, said that the team uses the questions customers ask to improve the assessment itself, making it more relevant the more homes they visit.

Wolf said the suggestions to clean the back of the refrigerator and turn off power strips were an “eye opener” for her. “I had no idea so much energy was going out of the power strip,” she added.

“It’s good to be on the ball and this audit helps with that,” Wolf said. “The weather stripping on the doors is good to check.”

Making every upgrade on the list can be quite expensive, but people are free to pick and choose which recommendations to follow. Plus, the audit includes all current rebate programs that apply to the individual customer.

To schedule an Efficient San Gabriel Valley assessment, residents can call (626) 457-1800 or visit sgvcog.org/esgv.

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