As a prominent architect in town, Clive Pohl knows firsthand the importance of energy efficiency.
So he also knew that after some renovations, it was time for an intensive evaluation of the Glendover home he bought several years ago. After all, he was prepping for an extensive remodeling of his basement and wanted to get a feel for things such as insulation needs.
The evaluation found that "I was losing about 80 percent of my air in an hour every hour," Pohl said. "And the house is a well-built house, relatively well-built."
It's a finding that's common for the KY Home Performance program, a state initiative launched to the public in November 2010 with the goal of making homes more energy-efficient.
Funded with federal stimulus money, the program offers cash rebates of up to $150 to encourage consumers to receive in-depth energy audits from any contractor in a large statewide network. (The audits generally cost more than the $150 rebate.)
The program then offers more rebates or loan options to help residents make the fixes that are recommended with the trained contractors ensuring the equipment meets certain efficiency standards.
Any Kentucky resident is eligible; the program doesn't have income limits. It will be changing somewhat, though, later this year; it will continue but be funded through different methods. So organizers say the best way to receive a rebate is to request and complete a home evaluation by April 1, with the needed work completed by April 30. Funds are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. For those seeking loans instead of rebates, the last date to apply is April 13 with the work required to be finished by June 15.
Organizers say most any type of home can benefit.
"It's not just homes that are old homes," said program manager Andrew Isaacs.
In fact, one of the first homes improved through KY Home Performance was "a beautiful home in Hartland that was not more than 15 years old," said Van Meter Pettit, manager of the KY Clean Energy Corps, a program affiliate.
"They were able to make dramatic improvements," said Pettit, who is married to Herald-Leader staff writer Linda B. Blackford. "From the street, you would think that house must just be perfect."
But Isaacs said the program has found that the average home undergoing an evaluation and improvements can save 26 percent on energy costs.
Pettit added, "A lot of the improvements are what you only find through a lot of diagnostics."
The gear for the energy audits is more sophisticated than you might imagine. For examining Pohl's home, energy analyst Jamie Clark of Arronco Comfort Air brought a laptop, fan and infrared device.
Among the most dramatic of the surveying methods is the fan, which is positioned in front of an open door that is surrounded with a canvas cover. When turned on, it helps measure how quickly your home leaks air.
"A house might look great, but if it has a lot of air changes, the thermostat's going to come on all the time," Pettit said. "It doesn't matter if you have a 95 percent efficient furnace. If it's running all the time, it's not efficient."
Contractors use the infrared devices to go around the home and search for areas where there are changes in temperatures to find air leaks. Among the most common areas and the most easily fixed are electrical outlets on outer walls, which can leak a small amount of air, Clark said.
The fix? "Everyone should have childproof plug caps in there," Clark said.
There are other easy fixes throughout a house that can mean energy savings.
"A hot-water-heater blanket can pay itself back in less than a month," Clark added. The blankets sell for $12 to $50 online.
Once the audit has identified areas of improvement, residents can work with the contractor to have the fixes made.
Participants in the program can receive rebates of 20 percent, up to $2,000, on the cost of the improvements as long as they use qualifying equipment that meets certain standards. That's on top of rebates that might be available from their utility companies and a federal tax credit on certain home-energy upgrades.
Another option instead of the rebate is to receive a below-market-rate loan through the program to finance the improvements.
A quality-assurance audit is done again after the improvements are made to ensure the home meets the KY Home Performance standards.
Isaacs and Pettit say it would be ideal for residents to enroll in the free program just to make the improvements, but it's often a fact that people don't make repairs until something breaks and needs to be replaced.
"Human behavior is: I want to get to that someday, and then the furnace breaks, and that's the day you get to it," Pettit said.
KY Home Performance takes that into account and allows people to enroll in the program and have an audit done within 30 days of having the broken equipment taken away in favor of a qualifying replacement. As long as a home meets the program's efficiency standards, the owner then receives the rebates just like a person would if he or she initiated the process outside of an emergency situation.
"You get the whole house fixed in the process of getting the broken equipment fixed," Pettit said.
The organizers say they find that participants are often less vocal afterward about the energy savings as they are about their new-found comfort level.
"It used to be they had to put a blanket on themselves to bundle up and watch TV," Pettit said. "Now they're comfortable in their own house.
"They like having lower bills, but they really like being comfortable."
And as Arronco's Clark added, it's a program from which anyone can benefit: "The single greatest thing about the program is, it works for everybody."