Nobody’s as enthusiastic as a convert. Lorn was in the office at Ecolibrium3 to go over the results of his energy audit, which included the conversion of his old fuel-oil boiler—typical of Duluth’s older houses, such as his 1906 model—to natural gas, which has the benefit of being more efficient, and therefore less expensive. That last bit is crucial in a brutal Duluth winter, which can try even the most frugal homeowner’s soul.
“I’ve been wearing two pairs of socks at home, with slippers over them,” he says. What’s more, he’d been purchasing fuel oil by the can. With the help of the statewide fuel assistance program, he’d had his oil tank filled at the beginning of the winter. That only lasts so long, however. A hard-working homeowner trying to make each paycheck go as far as possible can’t always scrape up the minimum payment for a full refill. Buying a little oil at a time was the only option.
“Canning it,” as Lorn puts it, is an inconvenient, expensive way to heat a house. During the cold, lingering winter of 2012-2013, Lorn noticed that what would ordinarily be two weeks’ worth of oil was barely lasting two days. By May, when the snow had still not melted and spring was still dragging its feet, he said enough. He estimates that he’d already spent $1700 on heating that winter, and he wasn’t going to buy more oil. He and his family put on heavier sweaters and toughed out the last of the cold snap.
Lorn had determined that one way or another, he was going to replace his aging boiler. Ecolibrium3 conducted an energy audit on Lorn’s house and got him the funding for a replacement—a new, efficient combination boiler and water heater, EnergyStar rated so it will be a good investment. The audit also has recommendations for other improvements Lorn can make to his house. Take air sealing, for instance. People know about the benefits of insulation, but they’re less familiar with this concept—finding the spots where cold air seeps in from outside and sealing them off so there is less heat loss, meaning less energy is needed to keep the house warm. “Insulation is like wearing a wool sweater,” says Kristen, the Ecolibrium3 staff member working with Lorn. “It’ll keep you warm, but if you don’t put a windbreaker on, the wind will still whip right through you. Air sealing is like that windbreaker for your house.”
Lorn nods. A lot of this work he can do by himself, which is important both for saving money and for the way he sees himself as a homeowner. He values being able to take care of the house himself, and gutted his bathroom last winter to do a complete overhaul. When he bought his house a few years ago, he didn’t know much about homeownership. He’d been considering it for a while, but then a fire in his rental over the Christmas holidays forced his hand. He had to move somewhere, which accelerated the home-buying process. He has learned a lot since then. “I wouldn’t buy a house on fuel oil now, that’s for sure!” he says ruefully.
Lorn has a plan now for how to improve his house’s energy efficiency even more, and he wants other homeowners to know the benefits of making greener improvements to their homes. “We’ve got this technology now, and these things have to happen,” he says. “There’s so much waste. We can do better.”