Utilities

How Does Your Home Compare to Your Neighbor’s?

Yardstick

By: Brian Ng

It’s springtime! Now that the dark, cold days of winter are gone, it’s time to do things to tidy up the outside of your home. After all, who wants to be the “messy” house in the neighborhood? Now is also the perfect time to tidy up your home’s energy efficiency, especially compared to your neighbors’ homes. After all, who wants to have the highest utility bill in the neighborhood? Plus, reducing our energy consumption at home helps fight climate change since using energy means having to produce energy, which typically involves the burning of fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases and cause climate change.

But short of knocking on their door, how do you find out how your home’s energy use compares to your neighbor’s home? The ENERGY STAR program offers a free, online tool called the Home Energy Yardstick, available here. It allows you to compare your home’s energy use to similar homes across the country. By entering your home’s annual energy use, the number of occupants, conditioned square footage, and its ZIP code, the Yardstick computes a score between 0 and 10, indicating the relative energy consumption of your home compared to a nationally representative sample of single family homes.  On the Yardstick scale, 0 is the most energy-consuming household and 10 is the least energy-consuming household. An “average” home scores a 5 on the Yardstick. So the higher the Yardstick score, the better! You can even print a certificate and brag to your neighbors if your score warrants bragging rights.

To use the Yardstick, you’ll need the last 12 months of utility bills for your home.  Typically you can find a 12-month usage summary on your most recent bill or through the utility’s web site.  It only takes about five minutes to enter the information and get a score.  Some utilities provide customers with the ability to download a “Green Button” file that provides detailed information about energy usage for their home.  If your utility participates in Green Button, you can simply upload your home’s utility data directly into the Yardstick. To find out if your utility offers Green Button, visit:  www.greenbuttondata.org. For those whose Yardstick score is less than brag-worthy, fret not. ENERGY STAR’s Home Energy Advisor provides recommendations for energy-saving improvements for typical homes in your area.

Although these tools provide good insight into your energy consumption and how to reduce it, they are not meant to replace a professional’s help. So if you need an expert opinion on how to improve the efficiency and comfort of your home, a good place to start is with a local Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. Home Performance with ENERGY STAR offers a whole-house approach to improving the efficiency and comfort of your home. A participating Home Performance contractor will evaluate your home using state-of-the-art equipment, recommend comprehensive improvements to yield the best results, and help you get the work done.

So while you’re doing your spring cleaning this year, take a moment and begin cleaning up your home’s energy use as well.

About the Author: Brian manages communications activities for the ENERGY STAR Residential Branch, which forms voluntary partnerships to promote greater energy efficiency in new and existing homes. He enjoys trying to improve the energy efficiency of his own home when he’s not busy keeping up with his two kids.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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I’m WARNing you….

By Christina Catanese

…no, you’re not in trouble.  In fact,  WARN is where you’d go as a drinking water or wastewater facility to get OUT of trouble.

WARN logoA Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN) is a network of utilities helping other utilities  respond to and recover from emergencies. If a utility has been damaged or anticipates it could be damaged from a natural disaster or human-caused event, WARNs provide a network for the utility to get help.  This can take the form of personnel, equipment, and many other services.  Each state has its own WARN – check out this list to get information about WARNs near you.

Got a complicated main break that’s draining a storage tank, and need an odd-sized coupling to fix it?  Utilities can reach out to their WARN in this situation and get a spare from a neighboring facility to prevent outages for customers. Big storm cause a power failure?  WARNs have been used to respond to many storm incidents, using, for example, the common practice of sharing portable generators among utilities so a backup is available in case of a power outage.  Recently, utilities have been helping each other in the northeast after Hurricane Sandy struck to keep our drinking and surface waters treated and safe.  Read more about WARNs in these resources.

While participation and response in a WARN is voluntary, the success of the network depends on a strong base of willing utilities.  With a growing number of utilities in each state on board, the rest of us can focus on stocking up on canned food and batteries when a storm is on the way.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Meeting Tribes in Montana!

By Leah Tai

I was energized as I woke up at 4:30 am, grabbing my bag and a handful of almonds before heading to catch my flight to Billings, Montana. After three months of assisting and learning about my branch’s grant program to provide infrastructure to Native American Tribes, I was finally going to meet tribal recipients of this funding!

After college I traveled in Asia and South America before joining the Peace Corps in West Africa, and I always found that my favorite experiences involved chatting with locals about their community (or simply attempting to learn “Hello” in a new dialect). The personal connections and cultural understanding that comes from hearing the stories and seeing the favorite places of a new acquaintance­­ is irreplaceable. In Montana, I would have the opportunity to meet members of various tribal nations, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, among others, at an EPA training to improve operation and management of tribal water and wastewater infrastructure.

On the first day I immediately took a liking to one of the few training participants, Tina, as she abruptly interjected with opinions and comments gained from 13 years of experience managing the water system in a town of 250 people on the Fort Peck Reservation. Throughout the next three days, Tina never failed to make her voice heard. She and other participants slowly began interacting with one another, realizing they had lots of knowledge and experience to share. One tribal operator was surprised and excited to hear that a neighboring reservation had their own equipment to lift out well pumps in order to do maintenance and started discussing future contact and mutual support. Others discussed their communities’ resistance to increased water and wastewater rates, realizing that they face similar challenges in educating their neighbors and elders about the true cost of clean water. Two members of the Crow Water and Wastewater Authority were happy to give us a tour of their federally funded wastewater lagoon; lagoons were a popular topic during the training because many tribes in the region use them but not all knew about the regular maintenance steps they require.

It was inspiring to talk, learn and work with tribal members on improving their water and wastewater systems. I fell in love with Big Sky Montana but was happy to get back to DC on Monday and continue working to help these underserved communities.

About the author: Leah Tai began her ORISE Fellowship in May of 2011 working with the Sustainable Communities Branch in the Office of Wastewater Management. After extensive travel abroad and work with the U.S. Peace Corps, Leah is excited to work with SCB programs supporting underserved communities around the U.S.A.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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