University, COAD help rentals go green
Free audits offer advice on energy-saving improvements
Jun 23, 2008
By Breanne Smith
The cost of rent and proximity to classes have long driven students’ choices in off-campus housing, and this year, organizers of the new Green House Project are working to extend that priority list to include energy efficiency.
The Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) and Ohio University’s Office of Sustainability have joined forces to provide interested landlords and student tenants with free energy audits, which typically cost $300 to $500 when conducted by commercial inspection companies.
“With home fuel close to $5 a gallon, we’re all becoming green for the environment, but also for (the cost savings). Here you have it all: save energy, save money and do the right thing by the environment,” said Tom Calhoun, assistant director of the COAD Community Development Division.
The Green House Project -- which seeks to heighten awareness among Ohio University students and their landlords of the relationship between energy use, utility costs and climate change -- is funded by a grant from the Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organization of The Ohio University Foundation. It will serve a number of related goals, including offsetting the university's carbon footprint and reducing Athens' greenhouse gas emissions.
“We really feel that the benefits are shared by a number of different stakeholders in the project,” Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus said. “Students benefit directly in that their utility costs will go down if landlords choose to make the recommended changes, and they also benefit by minimizing their carbon footprint.”
Landlords gain access to a professional service that allows them to increase the efficiency of their properties, which makes sense from a business perspective. “A more efficient property is already becoming a more attractive property to Ohio University students,” Marcus said.
On Monday, Nancy Matthews had her six-tenant property at 7 S. High St. audited, making her the first landlord to take advantage of the Green House Project.
“If you aren’t a landlord who takes care of your property, it just goes (downhill),” said Matthews, who has owned rental properties for 26 years.
She’s tried to keep the house as energy-efficient as possible for her tenants, who pay all utilities, by replacing windows, the air conditioning system and the hot water heater within the past few years.
“I want to help them,” she said of her renters, who usually are students. “I want to go green. We’re a Bobcat town, after all.”
According to Marcus, rental units make up 75 percent of Athens’ housing stock, and Ohio University students occupy 85 percent of that -- or 12,200 rentable beds.
Mike Lehman, inspector with the COAD Community Development Division, has conducted more than 3,000 energy audits in his 20-year career -- including the one of Matthews’ property.
If Matthews follows the audit report’s recommendations, Lehman estimates the home’s renters could save some $600 on utilities bills annually.
One aspect of the audit, which uses a large fan directed at a tarp covering the outside doorway, measured the home’s air loss. Despite Matthews’ new windows, leakage was significant.
Calhoun suggested Matthews have more attic and wall insulation installed and seal air bypasses through which air can easily escape. Those two measures could make the house up to 50 percent more energy efficient.
“The home was probably constructed in the 1920s,” Calhoun said. At that time, homes were heated with coal, which produced a very hot heat that compensated for lack of insulation.
Matthews hopes to pursue at least some of the suggestions.
“When I get a written report, I’m going to give serious consideration to his recommendation (and do) as much as I can afford,” said Matthews, who also needs to consider the timing of improvements, considering tenants will be moving in this fall. “I want to take this advice and do as much as I can, though.”
The project’s goals reach beyond simply lowering energy bills, though. Marcus said the aim also is to help students realize how their everyday habits affect the environment.
“It’s our educational responsibility to our students at the university,” she said. “Sustainability extends to their lives beyond our campus gates.”
Landlords -- and student tenants who would like to request that their landlords participate in the energy audits -- can contact the Office of Sustainability for an application or further information at 740-593-0026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green House Project: http://www.ohio.edu/greenhouseproject/
Office of Sustainability: http://www.ohio.edu/sustainability/
Sustainability project lands $50,000 grant: http://www.ohio.edu/outlook/07-08/January/250.cfm
Published: Jun 23, 2008 2:02 PM