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​​​​​​The guy across the street that won't stop bragging about the air sealing he just did on his old windows. Or a friend who just spent the weekend putting an extra layer of insulation in the attic before the snow flies. Or the woman across town who's excitedly taking the solar-panel-plunge... Ann Arbor e-peeps: Hear about them. Nominate one. Or be one.​

Julie and Steve Lavender​

In June 2012, Meadowlark conducted an energy audit at Julie and Steve's home, and they acted on recommendations for air sealing and insulation (The a2energy "BIG TWO!": http://a2gov.org/a2energy/homeowner/). Summer warmth immediately demonstrated the value of these additions, keeping their upstairs noticeably cooler. Moving from cooling to heating season made the improvements less obvious. Nearby friends made the same improvements and had similar observations, saying they weren't as sure their investment had been worth the effort. Steve's utility meter and outside temperature data, collected over the last two years provided an answer on the insulation's value.

As of March 2013, they've used 9 percent less natural gas to heat their home than the previous winter. By adjusting for this winter's colder temperatures, the sealing and insulation savings reach 15 percent. The improvement isn't obvious because their thermostat remains set at 66 degrees, just like the previous winter. However, their furnace does not have to operate as often because they've sealed air leaks and added insulation!

Steve is an active member of the Sustainability Project at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Ann Arbor. Check out the project's website.

Terms: air sealing, insulation

UM Inter-Cooperative Council​

The Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC) community represents just one of the many aspects of the University of Michigan’s diverse and unique student body. Established in 1932, the ICC has evolved into one of the largest student-housing cooperatives in the United States with 18 co-op houses. 

Two years ago, the ICC leadership implemented a residential sustainability and energy efficiency initiative. Since then, they have undertaken a range of activities focused on lessening their environmental impact and using energy more efficiently, including utilizing a $4,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to replace old showerheads with low-flow, energy efficient ones. In addition, energy monitors were purchased for each house to track energy consumption and foster greater awareness among residents.

The Vice President of Sustainability oversees much of these efforts as well as the sustainability stewards program, with the goal of creating a steward in each house. Stewards are charged with ensuring that their housemates are turning off lights in unoccupied rooms and unplugging unused electronics – and not setting the thermostat too high or too low. Adam Dingens, current Vice President of Sustainability, says that “such efforts are lowering the total energy consumption and costs, and fostering greater awareness.”

By working together, members of the ICC are reducing their footprint and serving as a great example of how large-scale alternative housing can incorporate energy efficiency into peoples’ daily lives. Learn more about the ICC here

Terms: behavior changes, electricity, water

Mary & Jay Sell​

While on the market for a new house, Mary and Jay Sell were interested not only in the right location, amenities, and price, but also in finding an energy-efficient home. They prioritized features such as a brick exterior, blown-in cellulose insulation, and rain barrels. Since buying the home, they’ve installed draft guards and weather-stripping in their vestibule to prevent cold air from coming in. They also replaced every light bulb with a CFL or LED and insulated the windows with plastic window kits, and they’re planning to remodel the bathroom and kitchen with low-flow fixtures. The Sells rely on a programmable thermostat to keep their home at 60 degrees when they are away for long periods, and they find that setting it at 64 degrees when they are at home is still comfortable.

In total, Mary and Jay have owned their home for only a short period, but they have already experienced over $70 in energy savings compared to the previous owner. According to Jay, “it does not cost a lot of money to be energy efficient, it just takes research and willingness to change your behavior.” 

Terms: air sealing, behavior changes, insulation, LEDs, lighting, water, windows

Anne Shishkovsky​

Although many renters end up living in old and poorly insu​lated buildings, Anne decided to reside in the Arrowwood Hills Cooperative, which recently invested in a unit-by-unit energy efficiency retrofit project. The cooperative added insulation to the exterior walls of each unit and to the top of the basement walls, helping to improve areas that are frequent sources of heat loss. In addition, the cooperative installed energy efficient CFLs in each unit’s lighting fixtures to lower residential electricity consumption and save on light bulb replacements. 

Not only is Anne interested in cooperative housing models, but she is also an environmentally conscious renter who keeps the thermostat low, turns off unused lights, and unplugs appliances when not in use. These steps have helped Anne lower her gas and electric bills, and make her home a much more comfortable place to live.  

Terms: air sealing, behavior changes, insulation, lighting​

Matt Sandstrom​

Matt is a true advocate of efficiency, whether heading up Clean Energy Coalition’s Mobility Division to reduce vehicle petroleum usage, or tackling a year-long energy upgrade project at his home. The first step was new appliances; Matt and his wife purchased a high-efficiency dishwasher, washer, dryer, and an ENERGY STAR refrigerator. They went on to install low-flow aerators in the kitchen and bathroom sinks. But they didn’t stop there: they replaced their 35-year-old furnace and hot water heater with a WaterFurnace Geothermal comfort system, reducing their winter utility bills to less than $100 a month, which they calculate to be a total savings of around 65%. They also purchased a Chevrolet Volt, and installed an electric vehicle charging station under the carport at home. He’s currently averaging 191 miles per gallon. Matt sees his energy upgrade work as an “addiction. It is a fun project. As I finish one component, I feel compelled to start another.”

Terms: electricity, ENERGY STAR, renewable energy, water​

Ecology Center​

Nearly two years ago, the Ecology Center contemplated the idea of moving from a residential area of Ann Arbor to a marquee location downtown. Today, the Ecology Center is not only in a central location on East Liberty Street across from the Post Office, but is also a shining example of sustainable tenant improvements and energy efficiency. 

Essentially, it was the goal of the Ecology Center to occupy an office space that represented their core values and mission, and they have truly accomplished this. Windows and skylights allow for an abundance of passive solar light, which reduces the number of lights needed and the monthly electricity bill. The office’s track lighting is retrofitted for occupancy and motion sensors, which further reduces total energy consumption. In addition, the conference tables and desks are made out of wood and piping that was removed from the space during renovation.

The Ecology Center is a membership-based, nonprofit environmental organization based in Ann Arbor that works at the local, state, and national levels to advance clean production, promote healthy communities, strive for environmental justice, and foster a sustainable future. Visit their website for more information, or watch a short video about their LEED-CI Gold office space. 

Terms: behavior changes, business, electricity, lighting

Aaron Wolf​

The Wolf family was already dedicated to efficiency, environmental responsibility, and frugality, so for years they used minimal heating and no air conditioning in their 1928 home. Unfortunately, this meant very cold winters and very hot summers. So when they decided to make some upgrades, instead of shelling out big bucks to pay to install central air conditioning, Aaron Wolf and his family figured out how to make their house mu​​ch more comfortable without increasing energy consumption. “We are a good example of doing what we can with carefully directed limited funding. We went from using less energy than most people and being pretty uncomfortable, to using even less energy still and being comfortable enough.”

The Wolfs started by adding spray foam insulation to their previously uninsulated walls and increasing the amount of insulation in their attic. The extra insulation reduced air leakage substantially, which also keeps cool air inside the living space in the summertime. Installing exterior window shades on the south side of their house also helps their house stay cool in the summer. Aaron says that these shades have been the best “bang for the buck” investment because they were so inexpensive to buy and easy to install, and have made an enormous difference in the comfort level of their home. An insulated, self-sealing, whole-house fan also does wonders to keep the Wolfs’ house at a comfortable temperature.

After these upgrades, the Wolf family is even able to keep the house much warmer in the wintertime than before making the improvements, while still managing to reduce heating costs by 40%!

Terms: air sealing, insulation

Big Boy​

Joe Diequez and Jonathan Marsh, who co-own and manage Ann Arbor’s Big Boy restaurant, are serving up savings on their monthly utility bill. Big Boy is one of the first businesses to take advantage of Ann Arbor’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to make money-saving building improvements. With an estimated $72,000 in projects including lighting, controls, ENERGY STAR appliances, HVAC, and insulation, they will drastically reduce their utility and maintenance costs.

Last year, Joe and Jonathan spent more than $12,000 on major repairs to the heating and cooling (HVAC) system for the restaurant. The new high-efficiency system they’ll be putting in place is not only expected to reduce maintenance costs, but will also provide additional savings from lower energy bills. Altogether, the PACE-financed improvements are projected to lower annual utility costs by 22%, a savings of about $9,600. For small business owners, that is no small change. And because the long-term, low-interest PACE assessments are structured to be equal to or less than annual utility savings, they will save money every month, even while paying back the loan.

Are you a business or commercial property owner? Want to learn more about how YOU can save? Contact the PACE Program Administrator for more information.

Terms: business, ENERGY STAR, insulation, lighting​

Arbor Brewing Company​

To gain more control over energy costs at Arbor Brewing Company’s downtown Ann Arbor location, and to more closely align their business practices with their personal commitment to the environment, owners Matt and Rene Greff completed multiple energy efficiency improvements over the last two years.  They started out by tackling the brewpub’s major energy users: switching to CFL and cold cathode lighting and installing low-flow water sprayers, waterless urinals, motion lighting, and workplace occupancy sensors. Matt and Rene didn’t stop there, however; they saw an opportunity to make the move to renewable energy, too. Taking advantage of a combination of local grants, a federal tax credit, and DTE incentive programs, they installed a 2.4kW solar photovoltaic array, 300 solar thermal collector tubes to heat water without using electricity, and a high-efficiency tankless water heater system.

Speaking of the project, Matt said, “From a personal standpoint, this is something we care about. From a business standpoint, it just made economic sense.” Matt said that he expects the company will recoup its investment for the entire project within 10 years.

Visit the Commercial Savings section for more information on current incentives programs available to business owners – including Ann Arbor’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Terms: business, electricity, lighting, renewable energy, water

Bob & Donna Hart​

For Bob & Donna Hart, increasing the comfort level of their home was cheap and easy. When they discovered that they were inadvertently heating the unders​ide of the home's uninsulated crawl space because of bent and cracked ducts, they had the ducts repaired then wrapped them with inexpensive duct insulation. They also took the opportunity to install a true vapor barrier and insulated between the joists of the family room floor above. The result: a noticeable increase in the warm air coming out of the vents in the winter and a more comfortable space overall.

"This was such an easy project to do - it was just a matter of making the decision to do it," Bob said. At the same time a​s making these repairs, the Harts realized that with both children in college, no one was home during the day; they started setting their programmable thermostat at about 63 or 64, and only raising it a degree or two if needed to take the chill off when they're at home in the morning and evening. A related project included insulating hot water piping with foam pipe insulation, resulting in the delivery time of hot water to showers and sinks being virtually cut in half, which produces both energy and water savings.

Terms: air sealing, behavior changes, insulation, water​

Gregg & Andrea Horvath​

After a November 2011 energy analysis revealed that their home was experiencing substantial air leakage  - and identified lack of insulation as the culprit - Gregg and Andrea Horvath took action. They hired a contractor to insulate their entire home and immediately recognized a tremendous improvement: the comfort level in the home increased dramatically and it's much quieter inside. Follow-up testing showed that the Horvaths have reduced air infiltration in their home by 33%. With these improvements, they expect to save $381 on their heating costs annually.

Terms: insulation​

Pam Labadie​

In January 2011, Pam Labadie installed a low-flow (1.5 gallons per minute) showerhead and started using a 5-minute shower timer to take shorter showers. With the help of the EPA’s WaterSense Calculator, Pam estimates that her family of four has saved about 3,600 gallons over the course of the year, which amounts to a savings of $22 in water utility bills and $30 in energy bills.

Terms: water

Dave Chmura​

Dave Chmura replaced 13 incandescent light bulbs with dimmable LED light bulbs.  Each year, he saves approximately $114 and the equivalent of 14,387 pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition to the energy savings and longevity of the bulbs, Dave is incredibly pleased with the quality of the bulb's light output and dim.  "The LEDs we ended up with," said Dave, "dim much more evenly and can dim lower than the CFLs [we tried out]."

Terms: LEDs, lighting

Matt & Kelly Grocoff

After reducing their home's energy use by more than 70% --by lighting their home with CFLs and LEDs, using motion sensors on their lights, insulating their walls, attic & crawl spaces, upgrading to ENERGY STAR appliances, restoring & weatherstripping their original wood windows, installing a geothermal heating, cooling & hot water system, and using an energy recovery ventilator--Matt and Kelly Grocoff installed a 8.1kW solar array on their roof. They now produce more energy than they use, and DTE pays them over $1,000 per year for the energy they produce. Matt and Kelly are super green!

Terms: air sealing, ENERGY STAR, insulation, LEDs, lighting, renewable energy, windows

Kevin Leeser​

When Kevin Leeser and his wife, Lauren Miller, welcomed baby Evelyn into their family, t​​​hey knew they were going to be a lot of changes in their life. One of the changes they saw was their increased water and energy use, particularly in the laundry room. Since upgrading to a high efficiency ENERGY STAR washing machine, Kevin and his family have saved over $80 a year in water and energy use.

Terms: electricity, water​