Leader Blues

Friday, August 28, 2009

TOP STORY >> Lonoke home gets makeover

Leader staff writer

After trying unsuccessfully on their own to make energy improvements in their home, a Lonoke couple is getting help to cut down more on their electric bills and make their home more comfortable.

First Electric Cooperative chose the couple, Richard and Kelly Brown, for free renovations based on the condition of energy efficiency in their home. They are in the process of getting $5,000 in improvements to their home.

“Arkansas Electric Cooperatives held a statewide contest for one $50,000 home-energy-efficiency makeover,” First Electric Cooperative marketing representative Cecilia Cunningham said. “First Electric decided to do a spin-off of the idea and used a smaller budget of $5,000 to show and educate our members how the small things can make a difference.”

Cunningham said 400 members submitted applications for the makeovers.

She said the Browns’ home was chosen because they had the greatest need.

“Their house was constructed in the 1950s before insulation was popular. I’ve never seen a home without insulated duct work before I did an energy audit on this home,” Cunningham said. “The windows are all original to the home. The heat and air system was not working. It was not properly sized and was irreparable.”

First Electric staff started by going into the Brown’s home to perform an energy audit, comprised of a blower-door test and the use of a thermal-imaging camera to find the areas with the most air infiltration.

The tests will be repeated after the energy improvements are finished to show how effective the improvements are.

Afterward, First Electric will monitor the home and follow up with the Browns to assess how the improvements have made a difference.

The Browns have lived in their home off Hwy. 15 in Lonoke County for 15 years.

The couple had been living in four rooms of their 1,600-square-foot house.

Four window air conditioning units were used to cool the entire home. A heavy blanket was tacked to the entryway separating the living room from the dining room and kitchen. The blanket created a thermal curtain keeping cooler air in the parts of the home used most often.

To separate the kitchen from the utility room, the Browns used insulated foam board to make a temporary door to keep the cooled air in the kitchen.

Silver reflective insulation board was placed against the master bedroom window to block out heat from the sun. The cooler and more comfortable room is where Kelly Brown, a cancer survivor with a debilitating back injury, spent much of the day due to her health conditions.

Richard Brown paints jets at Hawker Beechcraft Corporation. Kelly Brown doesn’t work because she is a cancer survivor and has a bad back. She had corrective surgery but the nerve damage to the lower lumbar of her back is irreversible. The condition led to neuropathy that she said gives her constant, severe pain in both of her feet and lower legs.

She also recently has battled breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in October 2008. Brown had a double mastectomy and had 31 lymph nodes removed. All the lymph nodes were cancerous. She had her final radiation treatment last week. Brown also has lymphedema associated with her cancer surgery.

Kelly Brown said the First Electric home-energy-efficiency project was fantastic.

“Most people do not think about an electric company giving back. People think electric companies are a necessary evil.

Everyone is so shocked at who sponsored the contest,” Brown pointed out.

First Electric appreciated that the couple was willing to do the work to improve their home.

“One of the things that drew me to the Browns was they knew what their energy-efficiency challenges were. They were already taking measures on their part to combat that,” Cunningham said.

“We had a house that needed a lot of help. The house had no lack of attention,” Richard Brown said.

The Browns felt they did what they could on their own but needed more help.

“When you are on a limited income, you have to find creative ways to have money to spend on necessities,” Kelly Brown said.

“Saving on your electric bill is one way of having more money in your pocket for necessities.”

Brown said on their own, they replaced the incandescent light bulbs in their home with compact fluorescent lights. Each paycheck, he would buy one package until every single bulb was a CFL bulb.

“I put socket insulation behind the outlet plates,” he said.

He also put clear plastic sheeting along the window frames inside the home during the winter to prevent cold air from seeping into the rooms.

Kelly Brown said, “We added more cellulose insulation to the attic. It was a hot and difficult job, but it helped with our electric bill.

“We did start turning off the water heater at the circuit box. It saved some months $80,” she added.

A crew of 10 people consisting of some paid contractors from Whit Davis Lumber Plus, Harris Insulation of Lonoke, Stedfast Heating and Air and First Electric worked on the improvements.

Before work on the home make-over was scheduled to begin, a fire broke out in the attic at 4:45 a.m. on Aug. 17.

The cause of the fire was determined to be at the 50-year-old original main power feed to the house. When the house was built, the wires had been improperly connected. Cunningham said the wires were coupled instead of spliced.

Ballard Electric of Lonoke came out to the house later that morning and worked until 5 p.m. replacing all the damaged wiring.

The installation of a new heat pump was delayed for four days.

When they did start, First Electric’s energy-efficiency home improvements began at the ground level.

In the crawl space, a vapor barrier of 6-mil plastic sheeting was installed to cover the bare ground. The plastic sheeting will cover the ground to the exterior walls of the crawl space and the air vents along the crawl space will be permanently closed.

The foundation’s concrete, cinder-block walls, the copper hot- water pipes and the outer surface of the duct work will be sprayed with closed-cell foam insulation sprayed by Harris Insulation. The labor and some of the insulating materials were donated by Harris Insulation.

“This will not only insulate the duct work but will prevent any possible air leaks in the HVAC system,” Cunningham said.
Stedfast removed the non-working, four-ton air conditioning and furnace unit.

Workers replaced the unit with an energy-efficient, three-ton Trane heat pump sold at the reduced rate of about $3,100.

The seasonal energy-efficiency rating (SEER) for the heat pump is 16. The government standard for minimum efficiency is a 13 rating for a unit.

Whit Davis Lumber Plus sold a steel, insulated door for the front entrance of the house at a reduced price.

The door was installed to replace the wood, hollow-core door. They also replaced the rotted door jambs and sealed around them.

Whit Davis is also replacing at a reduced cost the front single-pane, aluminum-framed picture window with a double-pane, vinyl-framed window. Whit Davis will also replace a pane of glass that was missing in a spare bedroom window.

Improvements to the attic include adding 10 inches of cellulose insulation. To help remove heat, three new roof ventilation turbines will be installed.

Whit Davis Lumber is donating labor and materials for a new attic access door. The lumber store also donated a hot water heater timer and a water heater blanket.

The Browns will be putting in sweat equity by installing the hot water heater timer, wrapping the water heater with a water heater blanket and caulking all the windows.

Whit Davis also donated 12 return air filters for the HVAC system.

They provided two cases of sealing caulk and six cans of Great Stuff foaming insulation to seal gaps along doorways and under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, where the HVAC system connects to the home and at the points where cable wires, telephone wires and electrical conduits enter the home.

The energy efficiency make-over was to be completed Friday.

In addition to the Browns, other First Electric members chosen for the mini energy makeovers were John and Melissa Toomer of Searcy, Chester and Kimberly Brown of Mabelvale, Mike and Christi Miller of Perryville and E.R. and Mildred Dabbs of Humphrey.