Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How do you heat your water?

Energy Woes: A Personal Action Plan

This morning I was talking with a colleague of mine in Anchorage who told me that, in general, people in Anchorage aren’t aware of an energy crisis; the prices just don’t seem to be causing problems for them. And on an Anchorage Daily News blog from May 11 about the blessings of $4 gas, the readers seemed to be overwhelmingly clamoring for $10 gas. But here in the interior, and for most of rural Alaska, its not news to anyone that there’s an economic crunch in most people’s pocketbooks lately, and fuel prices have a lot to do with it. But Anchorage pays the same prices at the pump that we in Fairbanks do- so what the heck is going on here? Are all those big business dollars keeping them safe? I think the difference is all in the buildings.

Anchorage uses primarily natural gas for space and water heating, and their price for natural gas is $ 8.73 per MCF, which is about one million BTU’s. That equals an equivalent #2 diesel price of $1.13. Natural gas customers in Fairbanks are doing better (in theory) than those on oil, but home heating is more expensive in the north, period. So since the home is what’s killing us, and heating is the major use of home energy in the interior, here are some tips on how to save on your home heating bill this summer.

Since its warm outside, you’re probably not spending a lot on space heating. Instead, there’s another energy gremlin that might take many of you by surprise this summer-that’s water heating for domestic hot water, or DHW. DHW can account for up to 50% of the annual heating load on well-insulated houses that have already been well air-sealed. One of the major culprits to this are so-called tankless coil heat exchangers on boilers. During the summer, these boilers have to stay hot in case hot water is needed, and this wastes a lot of fuel. Other culprits are poorly insulated hot water storage tanks, and electric water heaters. Electricity costs the equivalent of $6.67 for a gallon of #2 heating fuel right now, but its more efficient than a boiler or furnace-still, it’s cheaper to use oil or natural gas for any kind of heating.

Some options for reducing your water heating costs are: get a well-insulated water storage tank; have a solar hot water heater installed; use less hot water (80% of the water used by the average American comes from the hot faucet) or go to a heat-pump water heater, though these are untested here in the far north. Use the chart given here to guide your decision--and remember that the values given here are for a basic amount of water usage: a family of four will use more, so the annual energy cost will matter more. In general, solar thermal is the cheapest way to heat water, but we’re waiting on the Cold Climate Housing Research Center for hard numbers to back that assertion for our climate.

Improving water heater performance may be eligible for the energy rebate program from AHFC, so remember to ask your energy rater about them. You can hear more about the rebate and other programs from the AHFC energy programs hotline at 1-877-325-2508. We at the Alaska Cooperative Extension have loads of information about saving money on energy, and we’re here to serve you. And if you own a diesel and those pump prices are getting you down, try the Fairbanks Biodiesel Collective at

Garrison Collette is an energy and Housing Consultant with the Alaska Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 474-2402 or

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Oil is Costly. Get help.

Fairbanks is struggling with high energy costs. The price at the pump and the price to heat our homes continues to rise, while we try to pay off last winter's bills. What to do? What to do? Whatever you do, get started now! Winter is in five months!!

Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) Announces Energy Cost Relief for Alaskans!
$300 Million for Weatherization and Energy Rebates, Second Loan Program.

Free home weatherization program: For Fairbanks area call:
Interior Weatherization 452-5323 to get screened to see if you quality financially for a no-cost energy efficiency retrofit to your home. This program is income based: ** if you're outside of the Interior.
Family size and income maximum to qualify:

1 $ 39,811
2 $ 52,061
3 $ 64,310
4 $ 76,560
5 $ 88,810
6 $ 101,059
7 $ 103,356
8 $ 105,653
9 $ 107,950
10 $ 110,2462
The Rebate program is for those who make more than the maximum income amount. Visit for information on this program. A certified rater must come and evaluate your home, and recommend retrofits you can perform to increase your energy star rating. Yourself or a licensed contractor completes the work you choose, and the rater must re-evaluate the home. AHFC will pay for the certified raters services. Visit the website for a list of raters for your area.

AHFC's list of raters for Fairbanks:

Dave Dobberpuhl, Facility Services, LLC

Terry Duszynski, Duszynski & Assoc.

Angela Ketzler, Interior Weatherization

Lynn Kuhl, Kuhl Inspection
907-452-5601 (phone/fax)
Lee, James Interior Weatherization

Phil Loudon, Arctic Technical Services
Mark Martin, M. Martin Engineering Co.
Milton Roy, Roy Construction, Inc.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Low Carbon Diet Book

Low Carbon Diet by David Gershon

from their website: This “30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds” is a fun, accessible, easy to use guide that will show you, step-by-step, how to dramatically reduce your CO2 output in just a month’s time.

Grounded in over two decades of environmental behavior change research, this illustrated workbook offers much more than a list of eco-friendly actions. It walks you through every step of the process, from calculating your current CO2 “footprint” to tracking your progress.

By making simple changes to actions you take every day, you’ll learn how to reduce your annual household CO2 output by at least 15%. And, for those who are more ambitious, you’ll discover how you can help your workplace, local schools, and community do the same.

Join the growing number of citizens who have decided to take global warming into their own hands.

You can buy this book from Gulliver's Books (3525 College Rd)
(907) 474-9574
If you'd like to purchase more than five copies for a group, please contact Gulliver's and ask about a "Book Club Discount" of 20%.

Alaska Interfaith Power and Light

Use it up.

Wear it out.

Make it do.

Or do without.

This mantra of the Yankee thrift ethic was a hallmark of our childhood, both in New England and Minnesota. We were not poor, but we learned to be careful, to not waste the bounty of God's gifts. This realization has turned us toward sharing with our faith community and with the larger society the insights of a way of life spent trying to be responsible stewards of the creation that God has placed into our care. Perhaps we can try to live in such a way that in our own life we leave minimal trace of our passing through this world.

This is the premise behind Alaska Interfaith Power & Light

Alaska Interfaith Power & Light is part of a nationwide effort, also known as the "Regeneration Project," to bring faith communities and religious organizations together to take actions aimed at reducing the impact that we Americans are having on the environment. We have been surprised and delighted by the savings resulting from our personal choices. In Fairbanks, Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church recently chose to accept the challenge, by signing the Covenant of Alaska Interfaith Power & Light, and made a beginning by switching out many of the light bulbs and a fixture in the church building from incandescent to more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. While it is too soon to be certain of the savings, there has been a marked improvement in the brightness of the new fixture and of the lights that have been installed. This increased brightness could be a metaphor for the lesson that the choices each of us makes with regard to the use and care of the creation have an impact upon our own lives and the lives of others. Also, we have begun a "Low Carbon Diet," a program developed by David Gershon, founder and CEO of Empowerment Institute. The program is intended to help individuals and families lose up to 5000 pounds of carbon emissions in a year. The group will be our "Team," and together we will explore many ways of reducing our impact on our environment, saving money and energy, and encouraging one another and others to live intentionally on the earth. Our group is comprised of members of Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church, but the program is one in which any group or individual can participate. There is a workbook that provides ideas and sources of vital information for any one who desires to contribute to a better, more sustainable future for our community.

Perhaps most importantly, the leaders of the congregation feel that in their actions they are setting an example for others of stewardship and responsibility toward the creation we have been given by God.

Oliver & Andrea Backlund are members of Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church, which is a member of Alaska Interfaith Power & Light. The Backlunds may be reached at

Legislative Success

The legislative session came to an end April 13th, after passing two important bills for Interior and Arctic Alaska:

House Bill 152: A Renewable Energy Fund AND Senate Bill 289: Home Energy Conservation and Weatherization.

$50 million will be put towards renewable energy projects and $300 million (!!) has been approved by the Governor to expand Alaska Housing and Finance Corporations budget for home weatherization programs.

Check back for more details on how to participate, and to learn about new renewable projects.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Legislative Alert

  • You are an important voice in Juneau!

  • State legislators are currently in session working on a bill which proposes increased funding for Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation programs for these types of weatherization projects.

  • It is Senate Bill 289: Home conservation and weatherization, and it’s very important to ask your Representatives to pass this one. It allows AHFC to assist Alaskans through existing programs to deal with home energy conservation and weatherization without limiting it to low income. It would still give first priority to those most in need. The increase in demand for this work will create job training and employment opportunities for Interior Alaska. Please write your local Representative today

Retrofit to Save Money!

So How’s Your House Doing?

Rich Seifert

The reality of a few days at 40 below is always an impressive reminder of where we live. There you are listening to the furnace running and running, on and on. Darn, I should have added insulation to the attic or weather-stripped the doors. Now there’s that frost on the door threshold, and I can see air leaking out the gable ends of the attic.

Spring officially begins today, signaling the time to start on projects around the house. So what to do? Since I work at the University’s Cooperative Extension Service, I have some helpful suggestions. Not only that, but these suggestions are in a high priority order. That means what’s at the top of the list is the most effective thing to do, and doing those things first saves the most money. All this comes from our publication “Tips on Insulting an Existing Home”, available on our website ( or by calling 474-7201.

This checklist assumes that you are starting with a fairly standard existing house relative to energy features: for example, an uninsulated basement: 2x4 walls insulated with R-11 fiberglass; a flat ceiling insulated with R-19 fiberglass; insulated-glass windows or single-pane windows with storm windows; a relatively leaky 5-7 air changes per hour at 50 pascals (ACH50), and an atmospherically vented furnace or boiler. The checklist starts with easy, low-cost measures, and includes progressively more costly or difficult measures.

So here’s the list of winning actions for warming up the home team:

- Air seal foundations and attics. Identify and seal major holes in the foundation and attic; patch holes in ducts through unconditioned spaces.

- Fix moisture problems and insulate basement walls.

- Air seal the house; weatherstrip windows and doors. Be aware that tightening up a house can lead to higher moisture levels that may have to be dealt with.

- Add insulation to the attic, but air seal the attic first! It is best to install attic insulation by blowing it on top of the old insulation. This adds insulation value and fills voids in the insulation blanket.

- Insulate the water heater. If you haven’t already done this, it is always a good idea. Water heater insulation blankets can be purchased at many local building supply stores.

- Tune up the heating system, inspect it and ensure that the mechanical systems are in top working order, efficient and reliable. This is always a good plan when we need the heat so much!

- Finally, a good idea but expensive, is to replace your boiler or furnace. This is especially wise if it is more than 20 years old. Newer boilers and systems are more efficient than the older models and you should buy a heating system with its own air supply directly from outdoors and with a closed exhaust, so that it cannot be “back drafted”. This can occur if the exhaust stack is not sealed from possible negative pressure from other appliances such as a clothes dryer.

This checklist gives you some money-saving ideas for getting started with your own retrofit. Visit the Cooperative Extension website or give our office a call for more information.

Rich Seifert is Energy and Housing Specialist for the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His professional mission is to retrofit Alaska's homes with insulation for the future, and helping Alaska to a sustainable economic future.