As energy coach for the recently-launched 50 Home Challenge, I’ve visited beautiful, vintage Solvang homes and come across quite a few leaky structures that allow cool winter air inside through cracks, gaps, leaks and holes.

In fact, it’s one of the most common issues I’ve seen while touring homes, and luckily one of the most cost-effective to fix.

Identifying these types of issues and providing resources such as cash incentives, low-interest financing and group discounts to fix these problems are key benefits of the 50 Home Challenge Solvang.

If you haven’t heard about the Challenge yet, it’s a unique partnership between the county’s emPower Central Coast program and the nonprofit Community Home Energy Retrofit Project (CHERP). The goal of the initiative is to help 50 Solvang-area homeowners make environmentally-friendly and economically-smart upgrades to their homes while also making their homes more comfortable and healthy.

The first step to participating in the 50 Home Challenge is signing up for a free walkthrough site assessment of your home with me. In addition to leaky homes I’ve also come across some other reoccurring troubles, so let me know if any of this sounds familiar.

Window air-conditioning units: You have hot rooms and beating weather on the south and west walls, which radiate that heat into those rooms, and it’s worse upstairs. So you think, let’s pull the hot air out with window air-conditioning units or attic vents.

But that is an ineffective way of sucking hot air out of your home, and over your home’s lifetime it can add to the problem because you just gave the outside an easy source of entry into your home. Plus, it’s another unnecessary electrical load. So, what’s the solution?

Sealing the cracks and gaps that allow airflow to the outdoors, crawlspace and attic is your most cost-effective strategy for an uncomfortable home and many other energy efficiency issues. When you have a well-sealed home, it can hold the comfortable temperature and quality of air you pay for. Additionally, the outside stays out, including reducing or eliminating sources of entry for bugs, rodents or birds. The quality and amount of fresh air from known sources comes back within your control.

Solvang’s home population from the 1940s to the early 1990s could benefit greatly from an objective evaluation of their insulation. So far, I’ve only seen one home that used effective insulation material installed well over a poorly-degraded original, which definitely isn’t a best practice. Insulation is a common-sense measure, and how well it is installed, and the material used directly affects its cost-performance ratio. Does it make sense to spend money on anything that doesn’t perform as promised or expected?

On top of energy-efficiency woes, we’re catching problems that affect indoor air quality and safety. Many local homes still have asbestos, which can contribute to many respiratory issues. It’s also a good idea to check the water heater, as improper installations are frequent. Fortunately, water heaters tend to have easy fixes, but significantly improve safety and performance.

The walkthrough site assessment of your home is free, and I’d be happy to come by to see how we can cut down on your energy use and make sure you have a safe and comfortable home. Go to empowersbc.org or call (805) 568-3530 to learn more or schedule an appointment.

Lauren Bell is emPower Central Coast’s energy coach.

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