Ninety degree weather may not seem ideal for a discussion about weatherization and energy efficiency, but humidity and high temperatures did not cool the excitement of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and the neighbors on Holyoke Drive, who gathered to celebrate Dominion Virginia Power’s EnergyShare weatherization program expansion. Homeowners Elmore and Bessie Jenkins handled all the hubbub with great aplomb, even when the governor and assorted visitors squeezed into their underground cellar to examine weatherization techniques as simple as sealing the joints in ductwork with heavy tape. Sealing leaky ductwork can improve energy efficiency and reduce heating, or cooling, costs by 40 percent or more, according to Community Housing Partners, the non-profit organization that selected the homeowners for the Fairfax County demonstration project. Mr. Jenkins is an Army veteran from the Vietnam era, and he and his wife have lived in their small house in Lincolnia since the 1970s.
Dominion is expanding its EnergyShare program in response to Governor McAuliffe’s executive order that urges large utility providers to help low-income customers with energy assistance. Work at the Jenkins home included insulating pipes, installing low-flow shower heads and faucets; a new oil tank; and a new window A/C unit. One of the most interesting, but unseen, exercises was the “blower door test” which sealed the entire front door in red plastic and installed a special fan that reduces air pressure in the house so technicians can see where outside air (hot or cold) is coming in. It almost looked like holiday décor with the wreath placed closer to the doorsill, but the test will pinpoint where additional insulation around doors and windows may be needed. Governor McAuliffe noted that he wants the Commonwealth of Virginia to lead the way in energy efficiency, and become energy independent, across the nation.
Interestingly, several new homes on the street have been built by alternative-education students who are learning trade skills, as well as developing new trade skills that will be in demand as “green” jobs take off in the future. The construction curriculum on Holyoke Drive was begun by the former Leary School, and continued by the Phillips School in Annandale. The students learn everything from excavating the foundation to laying carpet, and have made a huge difference in many lives, including their own. The new homes also are more energy efficient – tighter construction, thermal windows, more efficient appliances, and heat pumps in most cases.
Dominion’s EnergyShare program utilizes some federal funds through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which operates across the nation. Energy conservation, reducing dependence on foreign oil and decreasing the cost of energy, especially for families in need, are among the goals of WAP, which also utilizes state and local agencies in the effort. Many of the energy-saving techniques can be installed as do-it-yourself projects, including weatherstripping, low flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and insulating pipes. Now is a good time to check around your house for places you can improve energy efficiency, before the cold weather sets in. The payoff might just be more comfortable living, and lower energy bills.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]