Mon, 04 Mar 2013 11:21:00 CST — by: Daniel Church, C'11, Sustainability Post-Baccalaureate Fellow '12-'13
As Sewanee looks to become an ever more sustainable institution, the University is also looking to assist members of the entire community in achieving a level of sustainability of their own. While most people equate sustainability as simply environmentalism and recycling, it links environmental stability with economic vitality and social justice. Sewanee hopes to not only help the planet but also help the local community at the same time.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact is to improve the efficiency of your home. There are numerous simple yet important steps that homeowners can take to help lower utility costs. Such efficiency improvements can not only help lower bills but also reduce greenhouse emissions through decreased burning of fossil fuels needed to produce energy. These steps include behavioral changes such as turning off lights and unplugging all appliances when not in use, as well as turning home and water thermostats down, replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent and LED bulbs, installing low-flow shower heads and faucets, as well as caulking and weather-stripping of leaky doors and windows.
In order to help assist local community members who may be strug- gling to pay their utility bills and are unable to make such efficiency retrofits, the school has initiated the Utility Conservation Program, a joint venture between the University’s office of sustainability and outreach office. The project is essentially an extensive energy audit where students, with the assistance of staff, spend several hours conducting various tests to search the house for leaks and other energy inefficiencies. One such assessment, the blower door test, uses a large fan placed in an exterior doorway to draw air out of the house. With this air movement, leaks in doorways, window seals and around outlets and faucets can be detected.
After specific problems have been identified, simple retrofits can be made on site during the audit, such as shower head and lighting changes. For homeowners that qualify, other improvements can be made through a series of grants. These improvements include sealing and insulating heating and cooling ducts, adding insulation to water pipes, windows and attics, replacement of water heaters, old appliances and the installation of low-flow toilets. As a part of the process, the office of sustainability requests comparisons between bills from a baseline year and bills after retrofits have been made. With this information, energy savings and subsequent carbon emission reductions can be quantified.
This spring students from the University’s “Human Health and the Environment” class, along with outreach and sustainability staff, have conducted several audits and are looking for more candidates as the program expands over time. Interested candidates should contact Outreach Coordinator Dixon Myers at 598-1156 or <dmyers@sewanee. edu> or a sustainability post-baccalaureate fellow at 598-1798. Candidates who qualify for grants can also have subsequent retrofits and upgrades made in their homes.
The Utility Conservation Program is a small but meaningful way in which Sewanee is looking to help lower greenhouse gas emissions and promote a cleaner environment both locally and globally. While some changes toward the goal of sustainability may be difficult initially, the results equate in savings of numerous resources, most notably financial savings, over time. Sometimes, a small change by many can have the greatest impact.