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Hermiston students bringing energy-efficient homes to Eastern Oregon

Sean Hart

East Oregonian

Published on September 23, 2015 12:01AM

Last changed on September 23, 2015 9:47PM

Cameron Welch, with Energy Trust of Oregon, talks about how to use a duct blaster to find leaks in the ducts system of a house on Wednesday to a group of high school students in the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Cameron Welch, with Energy Trust of Oregon, talks about how to use a duct blaster to find leaks in the ducts system of a house on Wednesday to a group of high school students in the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program in Hermiston.

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Mike Lillesand, with Energy Trust of Oregon out of Portland, talks about an energy performance score with high school students Wednesday at the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Mike Lillesand, with Energy Trust of Oregon out of Portland, talks about an energy performance score with high school students Wednesday at the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program in Hermiston.

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Next-generation homebuilders are being trained early about the benefits of energy efficiency.

Energy Trust of Oregon worked with students in the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program Wednesday.

Curt Berger, a 25-year teacher and new coordinator of the program, said bringing in experts is key to education. Students building the program’s first home last year used energy-efficient techniques with help from local professionals, but Berger said he wanted to go further the second time around.

“When you’re trying to build an energy-efficient home, a lot of that starts right now with the framing and then later, of course, how we seal things, and then we’ll get into the appliances,” he said. “All of that makes for a more energy-efficient home, and we think a better-educated student on that process while they’re out there swinging a hammer is going to make us a better house.”

The students learned about building, science, thermodynamics, insulation, duct-sealing techniques, as well as requirements and incentives for Energy Trust programs.

High school seniors Cameron Meade and Rebecca Carr participated in the homebuilder program last year but said the energy-efficiency training provided additional information.

“I learned a lot more about the general concept of heat in a house,” Carr said. “I didn’t really think about heat being a molecule until they put it in those terms. Heat rises, which I knew, but I didn’t think about heat as a moving molecule, so when it hits another molecule it makes it move. That’s how it travels. So when you have heat that’s up in the air, it’s more likely to get outside the house, and that’s why we have the different barriers to keep the heat inside.”

The students also learned about Energy Trust’s scoring system that rates the energy consumption and carbon footprint of a newly constructed home. The energy score — which varies from 0 to 200 ­— is based on the amount of energy used each year. The lower the score, the more efficient the building. The current home’s preliminary score was 80, compared to 101 for the same residence built only to required code standards rather than using energy-efficient techniques. Because the home uses less energy, the eventual homeowners will pay less in utility bills.

The students said energy efficiency is a significant aspect of modern homebuilding.

“I think it’s very important,” Meade said. “I think many people here are wanting to save money.”

“And it helps our environment,” Carr added. “Not only is it going to keep costs down for the people that live here, but it’s going to completely reduce the carbon footprint that they leave, which is great because with global warming and all the problems we are having currently, I can’t imagine how much it would help if everybody had a score of 80.”

Berger said the program’s homes feature better furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, insulation and seals, as well as more efficient appliances. Although the process is just starting to catch on in this region, he said it will continue to grow.

“It has not been as big of a deal in Eastern Oregon, but as energy costs go up with natural gas or with electricity, it’s going to be more and more of an issue,” he said. “It’s a great selling point, and we think as more and more people are educated about energy efficiency it’s going to be an even bigger selling point.”

Susan Badger-Jones, Energy Trust’s Eastern Oregon outreach manager, said 7,000 new Oregon homes have received an Energy Performance Score since the program began in 2009. To receive the score, the homes are designed to be at least 10 percent more efficient than required by code, she said, and the performance of 11 different systems from duct sealing to heat pumps must be verified by a third party. Energy Trust provides early design assistance, performance testing at various stages of the project and the final official test and score, she said.

Through its services and energy solutions, as well as cash incentives for energy efficiency, Badger-Jones said Energy Trust saved its 1.5 million Oregon customer more than $1.9 billion in energy costs between 2002 and 2014. The benefits, however, are even greater, she said.

“Because it does involve air sealing particularly and better insulation, you also get a house that’s more comfortable,” she said. “The dust doesn’t come in because it’s more sealed up. The temperature doesn’t fluctuate because the insulation and the special attention to the shell of the house is keeping the cool air in in the summer and keeping the warm air in in the winter.”

Further, she said, Oregon’s 10-year energy plan states new demand should be met by increased efficiency rather than expanded power sources. She said the student homebuilders were helping achieve that goal.

“If you can do the same things just as well with less energy, then there is more energy to go around,” she said. “Instead of building a new power plant, which is very expensive, you can supply new customers with their power needs out of the efficiency of existing customers, and it keeps the price of energy down for everyone.”



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