An audit to invite you to

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By The Staff

Audit never brings to mind educational, enjoyable times – and free shower heads – until I had one conducted by the county’s Water & Energy Conservation Officer Matt Dickens of the Department of Public Utilities.

More pleasant anomalies come to mind as these audits are done at the customer’s request, are scheduled for the customer’s convenience, take only an hour, are free and serve to save the customer money while reducing energy and water. I volunteered for Matt’s audit out of curiosity. Matt arrived promptly for the appointment, carrying a plumber’s tote in one hand and charts in the other.

First he reviewed the charts, which summarized my household usage of water, gas and electric from 2005 to 2008. Among them were bar charts that spanned January to December and grouped by each month the usage by year. Water use by these charts, Matt said, appears for most as an arch centered about summertime irrigation. The arch’s base in in winter months indicates indoor use; its height from the base outside use.

Matt can compare outdoor usage against known averages for watering your particular landscapes or gardens. A substantial excess from the average indicates either overkill watering or a horribly leaky irrigation system, either habits or plumbing in need of repair.

Gas was reviewed next. Consumption by homes like mine heated by gas is highest in winter months, a trend that describes a trough on the bar chart about the summer months. And it’s a deep trough. In my case, I burn nine times more Therms in January than in July, during which months I draw gas only to cook and heat water. One inference from such a steep seasonal swing is that winterizing one’s home, replacing an inefficient furnace, or installing programmable thermostats are among the most significant steps a homeowner can take to reduce energy use and bills. Time and money spent on these changes yield more savings than will, say, agonizing over efficiency figures of new water heaters. Sometimes the attention to home heating yields purely comfort.

In 2007, I got a new furnace to replace the rumbling Bryant installed in my 1957 home. My gas consumption hasn’t changed, but I no longer freeze.

My electricity consumption was unremarkably steady, though it edged upward a few percent each year. When I suspected my ’70s vintage refrigerator, Matt recommended doing two things. First, clean the condenser coils. Second, get a Watt meter on loan at no charge from the DPU for a week. Plug the Watt meter into the outlet, the refrigerator into the meter and then see by the meter’s numbers whether the refrigerator is drawing more energy than those of like size and year.

Better, I thought, would be to compare the energy draw against newer standards. Later research showed my refrigerator swills 2,000 kWh yearly ($200 annually here) while a new replacement would sip 400 kWh ($40 annually). In five years, a new fridge would pay for itself and keep five tons of coal-fired CO 2  from our air.

Just as I was thinking my fridge should go the way of its era’s flared trousers, Matt reminded me the corset’s contemporary was still lighting my home by giving me free compact fluorescent bulbs. Under the DPU’s Watt Swap, residents may trade six incandescent bulbs CFL equivalents. With these CFL’s in place of their Edisonian ancestors I’ll save nearly enough cash to cover a full subscription to LA Green, our county’s renewable-energy plan. Contact PEEC, a DPU partner, for more information about the Watt Swap and LA Green.

Matt then went on a hunt for waste. Each spigot and shower head was measured for flow rate by a brief filling of a graduated plastic bag. When spigots flowed more than two gallons per minute, Matt rummaged through his bag to find and offer a free 1.5 gpm aerator. Low-flow shower heads were similarly offered. Matt also dunked a water-filled bladder in the tank of my old toilet so flushes would use a gallon less. In installing plumbing bits throughout my house, Matt gave my home its first remodeling.

The high-tech gadgetry was saved for last. With an infrared imaging camera that Sharper Image fanatics would lust after, Matt viewed windows, doors  and electrical outlets to look for leaks of cold air into the house. We then went outside to look for leaks of warm air out. Nothing was badly amiss, and Matt concluded his visit with a few ideas for inexpensive improvements to window insulation. I was sorry to see Matt go, partly because I wanted just 10 minutes with the imager to looks for birds hiding in my trees.

We are fortunate, I’m now certain, to have a free energy-audit program and personally conducted by someone of Matt’s caliber. Matt’s charter as conservation officer is the same for us, to reduce water use by 12 percent and electricity and natural gas consumption by 10 percdent by 2020.

Through energy audits and other free DPU-sponsored programs, you will come to know these targets as easy to hit both personally and as a county, by living as fully and comfortably as ever while using no more than we need.