Episode #2: Low cost, high impact energy saving tips with Coweta-Fayette EMC (featuring Scott Lee)


Jacob Manus  0:10 

Hello, and welcome to In The Loop, a podcast by Coweta-Fayette EMC. I am Jacob Manus, and joining me is Rachel Camp. Thank you for tuning in to our second episode, where we will be discussing low cost, high impact energy saving tips to help you conserve energy and cut costs on your electric bill.

Rachel Camp  0:27 

Yes, so let’s dive in. Today on In The Loop, we have special guest, Scott Lee, who is currently the Manager of Energy Services at Coweta-Fayette EMC. Scott is going to be sharing some information about his role within the cooperative, where he works to help our members increase their energy savings throughout the year. He’s also going to share some simple steps you can perform while at home to help save in the long run. So, Scott, why don’t we begin by letting you formally introduce yourself to our listeners?

Scott Lee  1:00 

My name is Scott Lee. I’ve been with Coweta-Fayette EMC for five years, working in the Energy Services Department, concentrated on residential energy services.

Jacob Manus  1:11 

Scott, thank you for introducing yourself. If you would, could you please explain what is energy services? And what services do we provide?

Scott Lee  1:19 

Well, the energy services department is divided into two distinct teams. You got the commercial and residential teams and then the commercial team, which they work with, as the name implies, industrial commercial customers to help them get the best service that they can in terms of rates and they do audits of existing structures. And they help to make sure that the customers that have all the electrical infrastructure needs, have all those needs met. And on the residential side of things, which is where I’m involved and our team is involved, we’re really there to help make sure that the members, after they get service with us, that they are using that energy as efficiently as they can. So, they can turn to us for advice on that. And we also help them kind of drill down to figure out if they have any high bills, where that bill may have originated.

Rachel Camp  2:17 

Okay, so, you mentioned how important it is for our members to use energy as efficiently as possible. So Scott, what are some things that they can do to save energy in their homes throughout the year and increase energy efficiency?

Scott Lee  2:31 

Some of the top things that members can do to save energy in their home relate back to their heating and cooling system. Lots of folks think about changing out light bulbs and Energy Star rated appliances and all that, and those do things help, but making sure that your heating and cooling system is operating efficiently is the top thing you can do to reduce energy usage in your home. So, this starts with something as simple as keeping your filter changed and keeping the right kind of filter in your system. You don’t want that system to get super, or that filter, I’m sorry, to get super dirty. If it does, it reduces airflow which increases energy usage, but at the same time, you can get the wrong type of filter, which can reduce airflow as well because that filters too dense. You’ll go to the store to buy one and you’ll see this really high Merv rating on it. You don’t want to get one that’s got to have a Merv rating. I don’t want to get into a whole lot of detail there, but just be careful about what how dense filter you’re buying by keeping that filter change regularly and making sure you got that filter installed facing the right direction. There’s little arrows on that thing for a reason. Another thing you can do related to HVAC is make sure that system is well maintained. This doesn’t mean having to get it serviced every year, but every couple years. Try keeping an eye on the refrigerant charge, make sure that your coils indoor and outdoor are dirty, and make sure that those furnace burners are burning cleanly. Having somebody kick the tires on it every couple of years is recommended. And we provide a service to help you determine whether it’s time to have someone come out and service that equipment by checking some, you know, some basic parameters and performance of a heating and cooling system.

Jacob Manus  4:19 

Scott, if you would, could you please go into detail in regards to the services you just mentioned?

Scott Lee  4:24 

Sure thing. We call it a home energy audit. Some people might know it as an assessment, but during this visit, there will be members from our energy services team that will come out and conduct a visual inspection of your home to identify sources of air leakage, areas of where your insulation might be deficient, and we will also evaluate the operating efficiency of your heating and cooling equipment. Sometimes conditions call for it. We also need to evaluate how safely natural gas or propane fired appliances are operating. So, let’s say you got a water heater in your laundry room, which puts it inside your house. We might need to do a test of that. This whole process could take up to three or four hours to do the assessment or the inspection. In the process of completing that, we may find some kind of low- -cost high impact items that we could do for you. So while we’re there, we may go ahead and complete some repairs for you, which would include sealing up some holes that you might not know were there or insulating some areas of your attic that are uninsulated and are moving insulation around that was disturbed when you went up in the attic and installed that new network cable and you trampled the insulation and moved it around. We’ll fix that for you. You might have a duct that’s become disconnected that is going through that room that is really uncomfortable. We would reconnect that for you, and we might find a lot of small leaks that need sealing. All that kind of simple stuff that doesn’t cost a lot of money for us to do for you but could impact how much energy you’re using in the comfort in your home, we’ll go ahead and do those things for you. But, then we also produce a report out of that, that would give you guidance on what other steps you could do in the future, which might cost a little bit more money to do, but that you would need to do to ensure better energy performance now and into the future.

Jacob Manus  6:18 

Scott, is the energy assessment free to our members, or is there a fee?

Scott Lee  6:23 

There is no additional fee for our members for us to come out and complete this service for you. We actually call it our SmartChoice Existing Home energy audit; and nope, nope, we don’t charge anything additional for it.

Rachel Camp  6:37 

Well, that is great news for our members. So, Scott to help our listeners better understand the program, would you be able to walk us through what a typical assessment looks like?

Scott Lee  6:49 

As mentioned before, you know, we’re going to come in and look for the leaks, look for the insulation being messed up, and leaks in your HVAC system. A lot of the holes that we find, you know, we find them as we’re crawling through your attic or crawling through your crawlspace. We’re going to go into spaces that you don’t normally go. Those are the holes we’re going to be seeking out. There are going to be leaks that are going in behind walls that you don’t even know are an air leak. Okay, but it’s going into an uninsulated wall, and that impacts your energy usage. And that insulation that’s missing, well it’s going to be like on your attic pull down stairs, and we’ll install insulation on that. Or if you got one of those old whole house fans, we’ll insulate that for you. Those are the kind of stuff we’re going to be doing. Things that you don’t see on a day to day basis, we’re really going to identify those things and fix them. We’re also going to be looking at stuff that you might see every single day, which is that weather stripping that is worn, or as you’re walking out the front door, you’re seeing that light leaking in and you’re thinking, “Man, I gotta fix that.” But you don’t really have any idea how to do it. Well, most the time, it’s a pretty simple fix. And we’ll show you how to do it because we’ll replace the weather stripping on that door for you and let you watch us do it. And then the report will include what type of weather stripping we installed in your door and where you can get it. Now we’ve enabled you to be able to do those simple things for yourself. So that’s a big part of what this assessment is.

Jacob Manus  8:12 

You previously mentioned the smart choice Home program for existing homes, is this program available for new homebuyers?

Scott Lee  8:20 

There is a SmartChoice New Home program that consists of some measures that Coweta-Fayette EMC worked with builders to develop to make sure these measures are incorporated into a home and provide our members with a more efficiently built and less expensive home to operate but kind of safeguards indoor environmental quality at the same time. We help ensure that these measures are incorporated into the home by providing inspections at different points in the construction of the home. When I say we, that’s our energy services team, they go out and do these inspections. So, we go out and do an inspection make sure that the holes are sealed, and insulation is installed correctly. We do an inspection to make sure that HVAC system is well sealed. We’re also looking at things to make sure that there are no combustion appliances inside the house that could cause a safety issue down the road. You know, this is all part of that new home program, and the builders participate in it voluntarily. We provide some incentives for the builders to participate, and one of those incentives is completing this mandatory performance testing that every house being built now has to have.

Rachel Camp  9:22 

Great. So, let’s say one of our members is looking to buy a new home, and it’s not SmartChoice homes certified. Is there anything that they should be made aware of beforehand?

Scott Lee  9:34 

Well, unfortunately, when folks are looking to buy a new home, they shouldn’t assume that it’s energy efficient, there is likelihood that it’s going to be more efficient than the home they’re moving from simply because it’s a new home and it’s got newer equipment and things of that nature, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the home is operating as efficiently as it could, and it’s just too hard, there’s just too many different scenarios out there, home types, and everything else to say, “hey, go look for these 10 things and check them off on your list.” That’s just impossible to devise that list for you, okay, but one thing that you can look out for, as we kind of alluded to earlier, was this performance testing. In it, there’s essentially a certificate that you can look for that is either going to be near the electrical panel box or near the indoor unit of the air conditioning and heating equipment. The certificate basically lays out what the insulation levels are in the home, the efficiency of the mechanical equipment, and the results of the whole house air leakage and HVAC leakage or the duct leakage. Now, you can’t be assured that the numbers that are on there are accurate; hopefully they are, but you don’t know that they always are. Regardless of that, the presence of that certificate lets you know, that hey, the builder of this home knew that there were standards that were supposed to be met, and this is the proof that at least they were thought about.

Jacob Manus  10:57 

Scott, as we become more and more aware of our impact on the environment, the importance of transitioning from conventional energy resources to renewable resources is becoming clear to consumers. Does Coweta-Fayette EMC offer any programs for members that are interested in green energy programs?

Scott Lee  11:14 

We do Jacob, umm,  it’s called the SmartChoice Solar. It is a program that folks can sign up for, but I do want to make our members aware of the fact that Coweta-Fayette EMC is already providing about 10% of our total members energy demands with renewables, such as solar. It allows those members who are, you know, interested in reducing their carbon footprint through their energy usage within their home, an opportunity to pay a slight premium on some of their energy usage by investing into the solar panels that we have down at our Heard County solar farm here that’s local. You know, this is that alternative for those folks, because when you really look at the economics of installing solar panels on your roof, it’s just too expensive. At this point, the premium you pay for that energy is far more than one cent/kilowatt hour for sure. So for those folks that are interested in getting more involved in solar, more directly involved in solar, I encourage them to either give our customer service department a call, where they can get you in contact with the person that gets you signed up for SmartChoice Solar or visit our website where you can fill out an online application.

Rachel Camp  12:22 

Awesome. Well, Scott, you have offered our listeners a great deal of information about the programs and services that we offer. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today about the SmartChoice Home program, the SmartChoice Solar program and energy services at Coweta-Fayette, EMC.

Scott Lee  12:43 

Thanks again for the opportunity to let y’all know about it, and umm, I hope to be out at some of our member’s homes helping them reduce their energy usage.

Jacob Manus  12:50 

With that, we conclude our second segment of In The Loop. Thank you again for listening, be sure to tune in to our next episode, where we’ll be sitting down with one of our very own linemen to discuss their vital role within the cooperative.

Rachel Camp  13:03 

To learn more information about your cooperative and the programs we offer, be sure to visit our website at www.utility.org, and if you have any questions or feedback about today’s segment, drop us a comment on facebook at facebook.com/CowetaFayetteEMC or tweet us at CoFayEMC. And lastly, don’t forget to subscribe to In The Loop wherever you listen to your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.