One of the great things about “One Month at a Time” is that sometimes I get to have conversations with people about whatever it is I’m doing.
Emmett Pepper is the executive director at Energy Efficient West Virginia and an attorney, though I don’t know him from either of those things.
I met him a couple of years ago through the West Virginia International Film Festival. As president of the organization, he helped spearhead the creation of the Floralee Hark Cohen Cinema (the artist formerly known as The Underground Cinema) in Charleston, which shows international, independent and art films.
Emmett and I talked a little about energy efficiency and going green. He told me I ought to contact Appalachian Power to get a free energy efficiency assessment.
It was something he recommended to some of his legal work clients. It’s a way to cut costs, though you didn’t have to be low-income to participate.
“At the very least, you’re going to get a bunch of new light bulbs,” he told me.
But having someone poke around my house filled me with dread.
A little truth
I’m a lousy housekeeper — a distracted and busy homeowner with two dogs, a cat and a bad habit of letting dirty dishes sit in the sink and letting the laundry pile up.
In other words, I’m a slob with a habit of making excuses.
But the assessment was free. There would be light bulbs. And maybe, I thought, I’d learn something that would serve the monthly mission, while saving me a couple of bucks.
But maybe not.
I’ve always thought of myself as kind of thrifty when it came to the household power. After spending one miserable winter huddled around kerosene heater in a 100-year-old house with single pane glass and cracks in the walls that let in daylight, I learned about putting plastic up over windows, closing doors and fighting drafts.
Running the heat would have bankrupted me.
In the summer, everybody complains about the house being warm.
I didn’t grow up with air conditioning. We opened windows and used noisy box fans to keep cool. Most of the time, I don’t run the air conditioning, unless it’s too hot to sleep.
A walk to remember
But I contacted the power company and they sent Josh McDaniel, an energy adviser with the Take Charge program.
The Take Charge program is an Appalachian Power initiative to help promote energy efficiency. The company tries to show its customers how they can save money through things like better weatherization and learning how to reduce power usage.
On a sweltering July afternoon, Josh met me at my house outside of Charleston. After some introduction, we took a walk around the house to look at the roof, the windows and my 30-year-old heating/cooling unit.
It didn’t go as badly as I’d thought.
The good news was that most (though not all) of my windows were double-pane, insulated glass. For about $5 I could buy a caulking gun and seal around them, which might reduce that little bit of draft.
Josh told me I had a pretty good water heater. Sure, I could get a newer, better one, but what I had wasn’t bad.
Also, the walls of my house had decent insulation, which older houses like mine don’t often have.
Underneath the siding, there was a layer of what looked like Styrofoam to me, like a layer of synthetic blubber, keeping the heat or cold in.
The attic was also insulated, though Josh said that needed work.
“What you have now is some settling,” he said. “Your insulation is about four or 5 inches deep. You really want more like 14 or 15 inches.”
With a modest investment of a few hundred dollars, I could probably do that myself. It would pay for itself in a couple of years, probably.
Inside the house, however, was a different story.
From the attic, Josh came back sweating and told me to run the exhaust fan.
“Attics trap heat,” he said. “That heat up there is fighting with the cool air from your air conditioner.”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I never run that thing.”
Then there was the old door at the back of the house.
“It’s a good, solid door,” Josh told me.
I thought so. It was solid wood and heavy, made to keep out ravenous zombies or grazing deer.
“But wood is porous,” Josh said, delivering bad news. “It’s bringing some of the cold in.”
There wasn’t much I could do about that, except maybe get a different door, but neither of us thought that was likely.
Instead, what I could do was make the door work a little better. It sagged a little in the doorway. There was a gap above the door I’d never really noticed, which contributed to a draft that sucked the heat out of the room.
Josh told me how to remove the top hinge of the door and tighten the seal by adding toothpicks or golf tees to the holes created for the hinges to help bolster the door.
The worst electric offenders in my house were the kitchen appliances, all of which date back to when President Trump was married to his first wife, Ivana.
Josh told me Appalachian Power was willing to give me $50 toward a new Energy Star-certified refrigerator and would even send a truck to pick up the old clunker I had wedged against the wall.
“It’s pretty bad,” he said. “That thing has kicked on I don’t know how many times since we stepped in here.”
I shrugged. Back when I bought the place, the realtor thought the refrigerator was on its last legs and would go at any time, but the thing continues to cling to life.
I’ve wanted to replace it with a shiny, newer model, for years — maybe one with a fancy water dispenser, but that kind of thing requires money.
As we talked, Josh detailed an array of rebates available for all kinds of inefficient, energy-sucking things in my home I couldn’t possibly afford to replace. It was as astounding as it was depressing.
The other bad thing was the duct work under part of the house.
The previous owner added on to the back of house at some point, but Josh said the duct work hadn’t been done well. It worked, kind of, but it also heated the crawl space, which it wasn’t supposed to do.
“That just needs to be redone,” he said, breathlessly, which meant it wouldn’t be cheap.
Basically, there were some things I could maybe fix and some things I could only dream about fixing, but I did wind up with a big bag full of energy-efficient LED light bulbs, which was nice.
Josh even installed a few of them for me, switching out fluorescent bulbs I’d installed before.
After the fifth or sixth bulb, I told him, “Uh, that’s OK. I can get the rest.”
“Are you sure? Sometimes people have me replace every bulb.”
That sounded weird to me, making a stranger replace your light bulbs, but Josh said the state has a lot of elderly customers and not all of them can get around so well.
“I can get the rest,” I told him, confidently.
I do CrossFit.
I thanked Josh for coming out, and he told me that Appalachian Power wished more people took advantage of the program.
More free stuff!
A day or so after the walk-through, Emmett contacted me again and offered me his weekly share from the Hudson Farms CSA. A friend was out of town. He was getting the friend’s share and had a spare.
I told him I’d take it. For years, I seldom turned down free food, which generally consisted of donuts. Free, locally grown vegetables was a novelty.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The way it works is customers buy shares in the harvest of a particular farm and then receives a portion of whatever the farm produces in the form of weekly or biweekly groceries.
Fans of the program usually like it because you get high quality produce that’s a lot fresher than what’s available at the local grocery store.
It’s not cheap, though not super expensive. Participating in the CSA for Hudson Farms is between $300 and $500 for each 17-week season, a little more for new members — and there is some risk involved. Crops can fail. Weather, pests and just plain bad luck can befall any farm.
If the farm fails to yield much, there isn’t much to distribute, but it probably cuts both ways. If they get overrun with zucchini, then members probably get some extra zucchini.
You might pay a little more, but the food is closer to where you live, which is better environmentally.
I was willing to give it a try for some variety. Through the Capitol Market and Call’s Meat Market, I’d eaten pretty well, though it felt a little repetitive. Nobody was selling any leafy greens, and there hadn’t been much fruit besides peaches.
The share of the week was pretty good. The bag included half a dozen June apples, a bag of small, medium heat peppers, a couple of big, slicing tomatoes, a huge bulb of garlic, a pair of yellow squashes, some green beans, a head of lettuce and a loaf of gluten-free bread.
I tore into the bread and the peppers for dinner that night and made a salad that included the lettuce and a tomato.
The apples didn’t make it through the weekend.