It started as a friendly competition between two Edmonds families. Who could do the best job of reducing their home energy use — and, in the process, their utility bills — through Sustainable Edmonds’ Save Energy Now program?
On one side were April Zepeda and Brian King, living with their two children in a 2,200-square-foot, Colonial-style home built in the late 1990s in Edmonds’ Maplewood neighborhood. On the other side: Lisa and Bill Hunnewell and their three children in a 1960s-era tri-level home in the Meadowdale Beach area.
The goal: to make the necessary changes – from something as inexpensive as turning off lights to long-term investments like appliance replacements – to move the energy-use needle, save money and have some fun.
The competition took root in winter 2010, when Lisa Hunnewell read about Sustainable Edmonds’ Save Energy Now challenge and asked Zepeda – a fellow parent at Madrona School — if she was interested in participating.
Through Save Energy Now, each family received an energy audit of their home, which provided a list of recommended changes – then got down to business. The Zepeda/King clan chose to focus on modifying their behavior through what Zepeda described as the “low-hanging fruit.” The family lowered the water heater from “as high as it could go” to 120 degrees. The thermostat that had been set at 70 degrees was reset to 68 and the family turned off the heat completely at night, using electric blankets for warmth instead. They installed a low-flow showerhead and cut showers to five minutes, with a timer in the bathroom to keep everyone honest. The gas fireplace, which used to run “all the time,” was turned on only when needed. They also washed laundry only in cold water and unplugged all electronics when not in use. Finally, the family kicked its habit of leaving the home’s garage door open during the day, which had been letting warm air out and cool air in.
Their biggest expense? $20 worth of compact fluorescent light bulbs, which they put in every room of their house.
The Hunnewell family, on the other hand, had already been fairly conscientious about their energy use, since Lisa works as a marketing analyst for Snohomish County PUD. So they took some significant steps, including insulating the crawl space and sealing their heating ducts. To take advantage in utility rebates, they also purchased Energy Star appliances, including a refrigerator, dishwasher, a front-loading washer and dryer. “I knew it was the right thing to do long-term,” Hunnewell said.
What was the key to involving an entire family in reducing energy use – especially with children who are not always known for turning off lights when they leave a room?
“It was getting them invested in the competition, getting them to feel they were a part of it,” Zepeda said.
“It worked because we were competing against the King family,” Hunnewell agreed. “They were focused on what could we do to win.”
What made it easier for both families was having a spreadsheet, which Todd Cloutier of Sustainable Edmonds provided so that they could input and track their numbers.
“You have to see the savings and realize you don’t have to be in the dark and you don’t have to be cold,” Zepeda said.
And speaking of numbers, the results were impressive: The Zepeda/King family reduced their electricity and natural gas bills by 25 percent, for a total savings of $730 over the year-long project. The Hunnewells, who already had made some initial behavior changes, saw a 17 percent decrease, for $313 in savings.
Being the competitive type, Hunnewell was quick to point out that although the Zepeda/Kings saved more, the Hunnewells actually consumed less electricity, with a total energy bill of $1,477 compared to Zepeda/King’s $2,220 annual bill. But in the final analysis, both participants were grateful for the experience.
“I know that we are setting a critical example for our kids by making these simple changes,” Zepeda said in an email to Cloutier at the end of the project. “We not only teach them that conservation is important and easy, we show them that we value the world in which they will ultimately raise their own families.”
According to Cloutier, since the Save Energy Now program was a pilot project funded by the City of Edmonds, the next step is for Sustainable Edmonds to wrap up the data gathered on the 10 families who participated and deliver a report to the City – “what works, what’s cost-effective, what isn’t,” he said.
“April and Lisa embody two effective approaches – quite different, but both effective,” he added. “I wish we could clone them and have them help the homeowners all over town find the time to focus on efficiency, if only for a little while.
“We know what works,” Cloutier said. “We just need to figure out how to get homeowners onboard to make improvements.”