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    Categories: Environment

Free energy audit kits arrive at library

IR VISION — Thomas Barr of NuEnergy Group uses the audit kit's infrared camera to scan for leaks. While this wasn't a pro-level camera, Barr said it was good enough to spot most leaks.

St. Albert residents will be able to save money and the environment next week with the introduction of free home energy audit kits at the public library.

The City of St. Albert’s Environment department is hosting an official launch event for its new free Home Energy Assessment Toolkits Tuesday.

The kits, the money for which came from a provincial grant the city got for its energy retrofits of the Kinex and Akinsdale arenas, will be available to borrow through the St. Albert Public Library starting Oct. 3, said city environmental co-ordinator Meghan Myers. There are three available, and you can borrow them for two weeks at a time (plus one renewal if there are no holds placed on them).

“We expect them to be very popular,” Myers said of the kits – Edmonton Public Library lends out similar kits and typically has almost a hundred people on its waiting list for them.

The kits contain a number of tools people can use to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at home, Myers said. Guests at Tuesday’s launch will get to try out the tools and get one of 25 free grab-bags of faucet aerators, caulking, weather-stripping and other items they can use to retrofit their homes. The first 25 people to borrow the kits will also get such bags.

Myers said the city might get more of these kits should they prove popular.

Test-driving the kit

The kit comes in a virtually indestructible Pelican case and contains a guidebook, timer, infrared camera, flow meter bag, fridge and faucet thermometer, Kill-A-Watt meter, a charging cable and a memory card. The book contains detailed instructions on how to use these items as well as tips on where to find more information on energy savings.

Also in the kit is a note from the library that says each kit costs $975.65 – a not-so-subtle reminder of what you’ll have to pay if you break any of it.

The Gazette field-tested one of the kits at the public library this week with the help of St. Albert energy efficiency expert Thomas Barr.

Barr said it was good to see the city get these kits, as they would teach people to become more aware of energy waste and use.

“Whenever you look at energy reductions or energy efficiency, the first step you always look at is energy awareness.”

Barr said many of the tools in the kit were similar (if less expensive) versions of the ones he’d use in a professional energy audit.

The Kill-A-Watt meter is the most important tool in the kit, said Barr.

“We’re electricity hoarders. We love to use it and we’re not aware of the impact it has on us,” he said.

By plugging different appliances into this boxy meter, you can determine exactly how much power your devices use and spot those that drain power when inactive. Using the meter, Barr finds that the toaster in the library’s break room drains 0.3 W an hour when off (likely due to its big glowing display) and that its old fridge drains 122 W/hour – equivalent to about 30 cents of power a day.

These meters are best used over a week so you can calculate your annual energy use, Barr said. He suggested that the city put at least three in each kit so residents could monitor more rooms in their home.

“The best way to actually save energy is to improve the (building) envelope,” Barr said.

That’s where the kit’s most expensive item, the infrared camera, comes in. By aiming it at windows, door frames, pipes, and anything other place where you have penetrations in your walls, you can spot leaks that you could potentially fix with insulation or caulking, resulting in less waste and more comfort, Barr said.

Barr was impressed by the flow meter bag, as it was compact and re-useable. (He typically uses a bucket.) By sticking it under a running tap for a few seconds, you can see if your faucets are water-efficient or not. He used it on the library’s sink, and found it was just short of meeting the national WaterSense efficiency guideline.

Some of the other tools were less effective. The faucet thermometer wastes a lot of hot water, for example, and the numbers on the drip thermometer are tiny and tough to read.

Still, Barr said the kit was a great idea, and would be especially useful to anyone interested in saving energy or with a home 10 years or older.

“Gathering the information is the first step,” he said.

Once you know what’s wasting your energy, you can decide on next steps, which might mean new appliances, behavioural changes, or a professional energy auditor, Barr said. Once you’ve taken action, you can use the kit again to see the results.

The launch event is at 7 p.m. in the library. Visit http://sapl.libcal.com/event/3430046 to register.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.