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Energy Efficient Home Improvements Help Mother

Energy efficient home improvements help mother of three cut energy costs and make her home healthier, safer, and comfier 

Jennifer Wilkerson moved to West Virginia to start a handicapped-accessible permaculture homestead. With the responsibility of raising twin six-year-old girls and a son in a power chair with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Jennifer knew she had to make the best choices about where to spend her money on the new house. Her goals centered around savings and family resilience and Jennifer researched how to make smart home investments to improve comfort and lower utility costs. She talked with her neighbor, Diane, about her experiences and decided on an energy audit as the first step. Diane has an Energy Star home built with grid-tied solar, battery backup, and solar hot water.

Energy Efficient West Virginia’s (EEWV) Xavier Walter, in partnership with EEWV member Randy Swartz of Home Efficiency Solutions, is one of the few certified energy auditors in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Xavier is a certified Building Analyst with the Building Performance Institute, as well as a Home Energy Rating System auditor with the Residential Energy Services Network, both Nationally-recognized certifications. While he focuses mostly on training others to do this work, he wanted to make sure that Jennifer could improve her home’s efficiency. Working in tandem with two companies near Martinsburg, Xavier was able to quickly identify what was needed, and find contractors to air seal, insulate, and add a new high-efficiency water heater. These steps would reduce utility bills and solve the problem of an uncomfortable upstairs and a damp basement.

Day one: Xavier began his testing routine using an advanced diagnostic equipment called a “blower door” that determined exactly how many air leaks the home had. He immediately identified empty spaces in Jennifer’s Cape Cod house that dramatically leaked air, and had insufficient insulation. The attic also needed more insulation, and there were areas of air leakage around the perimeter of the basement at the foundation. Based on these diagnostics, Xavier brought Jason Johnson and his crew from Johnson and Johnson Heating and Cooling in to install a new, super-high-efficiency heat pump water heater to replace the old electric water heating tank. This cutting edge technology uses a fraction of the electricity – it is over 300% more efficient than standard electric water heaters.

Day two: The real work began. Xavier brought in Dan Taylor for labor help, a homeless marine veteran looking to learn a new trade. The pair started by cutting holes into the drywall for each empty cavity to access the areas. Once inside, they established an air boundary that stopped unwanted outside air from entering the home – keeping the room temperature air inside the home. Using foam board, spray foam, and other insulators, Dan and Xavier braved the 120+ degree heat and encapsulated all of the existing insulation, in order to block drafting at each floor bay. The floor bays were huge breaches between the first and second floors, where air could escape. The duo also spent several hours in the hot attic sealing all top plates, wire penetrations. Their work closed air gaps equivalent of two open windows, including a huge chase that extended down through the middle of the home.

Day three: The insulators showed up with an insulation blowing machine and filled each kneewall area, as well as the main attic flat with over 10 inches of blown cellulose to bring Jennifer’s insulation up to over 16
inches of insulation, or an R49+ materials resistance to heat loss (by way of comparison, many homes are merely RXX and the code requires RYY). Xavier also spray foamed the basement band joist, sealed up around basement door, and filled all air leaks to the outside, as well as the area where the garage meets the home. He then installed an attic stair cover to air seal the attic entrance, while still allowing for access when needed.

One of the major components of a Home Performance energy efficiency retrofit included addressing any health and safety issues. Jennifer’s dryer duct was a long, plastic flexible duct that did not meet safety standards. Xavier took the extra time to replace that dryer duct with a “smooth bore” semi-rigid duct, that will help her clothes dry faster, and reduce the risk of fire.

Home performance is an industry that includes insulators, plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and more. It is centered around the “whole home approach” to energy efficiency, indoor air quality, safety, and durability. Sealing and insulating the home makes a home as comfortable as possible, and ensures the safety of the occupants, all while dramatically lowering utility costs. EEWV helps West Virginians Unlike all the surrounding states, there are currently no programs in West Virginia that help residents like Jennifer to reduce energy use while by encouraging more companies provide these services. This project is an example of how energy efficiency can create jobs for people like Dan desperately looking for a new career and expand revenue for contractors and other small business entrepreneurs. If you are interested in adding home performance to your business, getting into the home performance business, or having a home performance professional improve your home and save you money, contact Xavier at xavier@eewv.org or 609-504-2119.
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