Some Sulphur Springs residents to get energy make-overs
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06/22/12 Janelle Irwin
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Three hundred homes in Tampa’s Sulphur Springs neighborhood will be getting an energy makeover on their homes this month. The Tampa Electric Company started the neighborhood weatherization program for low-income homes Tuesday in Tampa.

Improvements to homes include things like weather stripping around doors to keep cold air in and hot air out during the energy-draining summer months. A team of contractors will also be cleaning appliances and replacing old light bulbs with more efficient fluorescent coil ones. Cherrie Jacobs, a spokesperson for TECO, said the program will also provide homeowners with an educational component.

“It is essentially explaining to them how they can save energy, why caulking around the windows is important – because it keeps the cool air inside the house. Same with the weather stripping around the doors, these types of things. It helps them know when to watch for maintenance issues. It helps them remember to change their air filter every month if they have a central air system – keep those appliances running efficiently so that long-term they can benefit from these improvements.”

Paul Foster, a seven-year resident of Sulphur Springs, is the first to have improvements done to his home at no cost to him. He’s looking forward to seeing the savings on his next electric bill.

“It runs about $80 a month which is a pretty high and I need these things to help me save on that and since I am the only one here, I will be saving.”

And while homeowners don’t have to pay for the improvements to their homes, TECO does. Jacobs, the company’s spokesperson, said it’s being paid by a fund that customers already see on their bills.

“The value of these improvements that we’re installing in people’s homes is around $700 per home and it allows these homeowners to save about $100 a month depending on their energy use and the condition of their house and that is being paid for through our conservation clause. So, all of our customers are participating in the investment in this program because all of our customers ultimately benefit. If everyone uses energy more wisely, it can help us delay building more power plants.”

One major component that will save ratepayers big is attic insulation. Keith Smith, an energy contractor, has to wear protective clothing and a mask to install the substance.

“Well, the machine is like a vacuum machine that blows actually. We install the insulation into a machine and it blows the fiber into the attic. We just spread it out about four inches. The purpose is to keep the cool air from escaping up to the top, into the attic.”

Smith also weatherizes spaces around windows where air can both enter and escape. They use a rubbery substance called caulk to seal cracks. But don’t worry, Smith said homeowners will still be able to open their windows.

“Actually, it doesn’t actually go onto the glass unless it’s a big glass. We have another foam-type material instead of the caulk that we use to actually seal the glass and the windows and the caulk goes around the outside.”

TECO expects to start work in the Tampa Heights neighborhood once they’ve completed the 300 or so homes in Sulphur Springs. By the end of the year they hope to have made 2500 homes more efficient. Paul Foster, whose home is now done, said he’s looking forward to more than just cost savings.

“This helps me out because I don’t get a lot of time to cut the grass or work inside, do the laundry. I don’t get a lot of time to the little odds and ends that need to be done and this really needed to be done.”

Some of Foster’s neighbors have benefited from other home improvement assistance programs. The home across the street looks shiny and new after getting a new paint job from the group Paint Your Heart Out.

“I believe these programs really enhance the neighborhoods and hopefully everybody can take advantage of them. You know what I mean?”

Another neighbor is hoping she can take advantage of TECO’s program. But, their spokesperson said homeowners who qualified have already been notified.

“There’s actually no application needed. We are using this program as a way to target particular neighborhoods. We are using census data and national standards to determine low-income neighborhoods and we’re targeting those neighborhoods – Sulphur Springs starting this month and later in the year we’ll be looking at Tampa Heights and we’ll have more neighborhoods in coming years. For folks to participate, just wait for us to contact you. If you’re eligible, we will contact you and let you know.”

And for people who don’t qualify for TECO’s program, Jacobs said there are ways to lower energy consumption. She said a good place to start is by keeping thermostats set at 78 and raising that about 5 degrees if the home is going to be empty for more than four hours.

“Because, if there’s nobody home to benefit from being cool then you’re essentially wasting electricity. You don’t want it to get too warm and too humid that it takes additional energy to cool it down when you get home. So, about five degrees is good. I put mine up to about 83 when I leave for work because I’m gone all day and then when I get home I set it to 78. Now, for some folks who like to fall asleep to a little cooler temperature, a good investment might be a programmable thermostat that sets on a timer. So, keep it at 76 for a couple of hours until you fall asleep and then maybe later in the night when you’re already asleep and not as affected by temperature then bump it back up to 78.”

The utility also suggests that homeowners change their air conditioning filters at least every month when the AC is being used. In addition, ratepayers are encouraged to keep all working parts of appliances – especially if there are pets in the home – clear of dirt and debris.




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