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Local homeowners receive free tips, materials on how to save energy

Center for Energy and Environment marketing manager, Judy Thommes, right, hands out light bulbs along with air sealing tools to Park Rapids mayor Nancy Carroll at Saturday's workshop held at the River Heights Apartments. (Riham Feshir / Enterprise)1 / 2
Certified energy auditor for the Center for Energy and Environment Neely Crane-Smith, set up a light bar at Saturday's workshop to show participants different kinds of compact florescent light bulbs. (Riham Feshir / Enterprise)2 / 2

Little by little, Larry and Zelda Novak hope to significantly reduce their energy costs and increase the value of their home.

They're working on getting new windows, they installed low-flow showerheads, they're washing more clothes in cold water and they're using compact florescent light bulbs.

Saturday, the Park Rapids couple participated in an energy educational workshop, facilitated by Green Park Rapids and the Center for Energy and Environment, where they signed up for an energy audit or a "home visit."

Their audit will take place in November.

"What exactly would it take to lower our energy cost and be more efficient and green?" is the question the Novaks will get answers to during the home visit.

The Novaks and about 15 others discussed ways to save energy with Neely Crane-Smith, a certified energy auditor for the Center for Energy and Environment, gave some simple tips Saturday.

"I know that there are some misconceptions. Some people think that being efficient is being cold in their own homes," she said.

Heating and air conditioning takes up to 55 percent of homes' energy use, Crane-Smith reported, adding that it's an area where homeowners should begin trying to save energy.

Homeowners are encouraged to set their programmable thermostats at 62 degrees overnight and when no one is home.

"Turning your thermostat down just two degrees can help you save $50 a year," Crane-Smith said.

Lights and electronics come in second at 20 percent, appliances use 15 percent and water heating takes up the remaining 10 percent of energy use.

To start the savings, Crane-Smith said, begin by changing some old habits and using good equipment.

"One house can use twice as much energy as another because of (the owners') habits," she said.

Those good habits that can add up the savings per month include unplugging electronics when they're not in use.

An easy way to turn off a group of entertainment system appliances and computers is to plug them in an extension cord that can easily be switched off every night.

Park Rapids homeowner Sara Poehler, who attended the workshop, said just by practicing that habit, she was able to save $10 per month or a total of $120 a year.

Taking shorter showers is another good habit.

"This is not about being horrible people, it's not about judging," Crane-Smith said. "This is about finding strategies that work for you."

She suggested finding out how long each person takes showers and reducing that by two minutes.

Homeowners are also encouraged to use low-flow showerheads that maintain the same amount of pressure but use less hot water.

Also washing clothes in cold water can add up the savings in addition to maintaining new and fresh-looking clothes, Crane-Smith said.

They get just as clean and save up to 80 percent a year, she added.

Since appliances use 15 percent of energy in the home, residents are encouraged to replace old appliances with new and energy efficient ones.

If a fridge is 20 years or older, replace it, Crane-Smith said.

"If your appliance is old enough to vote, then it's probably time for a new one," she said.

By the end of Saturday's workshop, 12 Park Rapids homeowners signed up for home visits. All homes are located within the city limits, which is a requirement for this program that will be receiving stimulus funding.

The next workshop will be held during the annual Green Park Rapids energy fair scheduled for February 2010, where more homeowners will be able to sign up for home visits.