The road to efficiency 

Smart energy use leads to big savings

I was a little nervous before my home’s NorthWestern Energy audit. My small Westside house is 100 years old and, while I’ve done a ton of renovations, they’ve mostly been cosmetic. Because I never focused on improving energy efficiency and knew that I could be doing a lot more, I felt guilty. I worried that the NorthWestern auditors would judge me for being wasteful.

But when Jeremy Vivrette arrived with Micah Mehus to perform my free audit, the affable consultants immediately put me at ease.

Rather than criticizing the dog door that leaks cold air into my house even during Montana’s chilliest months, or the furnace that I’ve never had inspected in the 12 years that I’ve owned the property, the auditors seemed happy to help me down the road to efficiency.

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Vivrette smiled, for instance, as, in less than a minute, he replaced the antiquated aerator on my kitchen sink. “You just went from about 2.2 gallons a minute to about a gallon and a half,” he said.

Vivrette didn’t stop there. He also changed out my showerhead and my bathroom sink aerator, as Mehus wrapped my hot water heater in a cozy gray blanket of fiberglass insulation. The insulation alone will, by making the hot water heater more efficient, save me as much as $40 a year, Mehus told me. The showerhead replacement, meanwhile, will cut about $35 a year off my utility bill.

NorthWestern made all of the improvements at no charge. The consultants installed compact fluorescent lights that will last 10 times as long as the old-school bulbs that used to illuminate my living room, while using one quarter of the power. They also gave me door sweeps, weatherstrips and a plastic window-insulating kit. I felt like I had won some sort of homeowner’s lottery.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

One doesn’t need luck to get an audit, however. Most NorthWestern Energy customers are eligible, with a few conditions. The house or commercial building has to be at least five years old and powered in some capacity by NorthWestern. Buildings can only receive one audit. If a property changes hands, NorthWestern will provide a copy of a previously conducted audit to the new owner.

The service is paid for by what’s called the Universal System Benefit Charge, which is tacked onto NorthWestern customers’ power bills. The Montana Legislature in 1997 authorized the fee to fund energy audits, renewable resource projects and low-income energy assistance programs.

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