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Agency offers advice, assistance with weatherization

By SIMON RIOS, Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA - Turn it off, turn it down, tune it up, and buy smart.

That was the message of a recent presentation on weatherization and energy efficiency by Southern New Hampshire Services workers Paul Chalifour, an energy auditor, and Dan Girard, a technical coordinator for the organization.

Though it’s among the sexier things a homeowner can do to “greenify” the home, replacement windows certainly are not among the most effective upgrades.

Instead homeowners have an array of options—from the most basic —turning off lights and keeping the temperature down when leaving the house— to the more involved —having an energy audit done on the home and carrying out the recommended upgrades.

This is what Southern New Hampshire Services provides to several hundred low-income households every year.

“Comfort and affordability, those are the two biggest issues,” Girard said. “That’s what we’re hearing all the time: ‘My home is so much more comfortable and my heating costs have dropped dramatically.”

Lifestyle changes can have the highest impact. Hanging clothing outside to dry, turning off unneeded lights and conserving heat, can bring 20 to 30 percent savings.

When it comes to heat, the experts recommend small steps: “You don’t want to turn it down 15 degrees of you’re only going to be gone six hours,” Girard said, but bringing the temp down five degrees for eight hours will cut five percent off the bill.

Installing programmable thermostats can make such a strategy effortless for homeowners.

Preventing leakage is another key part of conserving heat. Sealing around heating ducts, in addition to keeping registers clear and open at all times can greatly increase the efficiency of a heating system.

SNHS experts also recommend having oil heating systems services annually, and gas every other year to optimize performance.

They also say not to close rooms off, as the heating system is designed to provide heat equally to all rooms. A technician might able to redirect the system, however.

Girard and Chalifour stressed that since heat travels upward, a house loses most of its efficiency through the attic. Therefore sealing off plumbing and fan vents, as well as recessed lights can prevent this.

But nothing takes the place of sealing air penetration.

Many electrical items don’t have a cut off, and continue to expend energy even when turned off, Girard and Chalifour noted. Unplugging these things when not in use, or in the case of larger units, cutting the breaker switch, can result in noticeable decreases in energy use.

Water-efficient showerheads and taking shorter showers, in addition to washing dishes in cold water, which is possible with the detergents currently available. “I went to warm (water) for a little before I went to cold, but there’s no difference,” Girard testified.

SNHS’s ability to help homeowners with weatherization has been buoyed by federal funds.

Ryan Clouthier, weatherization director at SNHS, said federal stimulus money has “been outstanding. We were definitely able to create jobs with it and weatherized three times more homes than we could have.”

This is “one of the very few government programs that actually shows a payback,” Girard concluded. “We’re not only spending money, but we’re benefiting from it.”

Low income households are able to apply for the weatherization services, though there’s currently a long wait list.

SNHS is a non-profit organization that receives most of its funding from the state, in addition to monies from the utility companies. It also provides fuel assistance and runs Head Start programs and a variety of nutrition programs. More information is available at www.snhs.org.

Reprinted with permission Union Leader Corporation Tuesday, January 31, 2012 www.unionleader.com

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