Truckee Green Challenge: The Sierra Sun stops wasteful leaks | SierraSun.com

Truckee Green Challenge: The Sierra Sun stops wasteful leaks

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; After reporting on the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s conservation programs for years, the Sierra Sun decided to take part, and report back to the community on the experience.

So far, over the course of 2009, the utility district had sussed out some of the places energy and#8212; and money and#8212; could be saved at the newspaper’s Truckee office. Appliances, electronics and lights were all examined and considered for replacement through a variety of programs the district offers, and the energy saving started to stack up.

But those electricity users weren’t the whole picture for energy savings at the Sierra Sun.

and#8220;There are extreme amounts of air leaking out of this building,and#8221; said Mary Winston of Energy Masters.

The first time Winston’s company tried a blower door test on the Sierra Sun office and#8212; where a door is replaced with a canvas door and fan, which creates suction in the building, allowing them to detect leaks and#8212; she said she couldn’t even reach the minimum pressure differential for the test.

Eventually she discovered the building had 1.34 air changes per hour and#8212; meaning in the course of an hour, the entire volume of air in the office, plus 34 percent, was exchanged with outside air.

and#8220;You’re completely reheating the space more than once an hour and#8212; that’s 45 percent of your total heating load,and#8221; Winston said.

Air flowing through the building’s insulation reduces its ability to trap heat, further reducing the building’s efficiency, she said.

and#8220;This is probably the highest return on investment if you fix it,and#8221; Winston said.

With the blower door going, Winston and her crew looked through a thermal camera at different parts of the building, and where they saw cold spots, cold air was creeping in.

That included areas around heating ducts, beams, skylights and the sprinkler system, she said.

Next, Winston’s crew came through the office at the end of December, sealing up leaks and gauging the results with more blower door tests.

Ducking down into the building’s crawl space or working on trestles, sealing edges along beams and skylights, the Energy Masters crew eventually improved the building’s leaks significantly, reducing the heating load by between 25 percent and 31 percent.

The utility district gives a $75 rebate on duct and blower door tests for air leakage, and pays 50 percent and#8212; up to $250 and#8212; for the cost of fixing those leaks.

In the Sierra Sun’s case, the project cost $8,240, but should save $1,750 a year in utility bills, paying for itself in less than five years, which amounts to a 21 percent annual return on investment, according to calculations from TDPUD Conservation Specialist Scott Terrell.

The issues the utility district addressed at the Sierra Sun aren’t the only issues that can face a home or business, and aren’t the only ones for which the district has programs.

Terrell looked at the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, but decided it probably wasn’t worth the money to buy new equipment in terms of energy savings and payback in energy bill savings.

and#8220;A heating system technology upgrade makes more sense when the existing older equipment needs repair and/or reaches the end of its useful life,and#8221; Terrell wrote. and#8220;So allowing older equipment that is reasonably efficient and functioning well to be used a little longer is a reasonable approach to take.and#8221;

But if the Sierra Sun building was a better candidate, the district has a $200 rebate for ground source heat pump installation.

Likewise, the office’s water heater was too new to justify replacement, but the utility district will pay $2 per gallon for upgrading to new high-efficiency electric water heaters.