Their thermostat reads 64 degrees. As outside temperatures drop, and the dead cold days of winter quickly approach, Concordia students Jen Buchanan and Lauren Tjaden set the thermostat in their off-campus house very low in order to save money on their heating bill.
“Our house is very old, so the door frames and windows are drafty,” Buchanan said. “We wear lots of layers and blankets.”
Buchanan and Tjaden are not alone, as many students living in off-campus housing around Concordia experience the same struggle: whether to spend extra money to heat their houses or save some money by dressing like Eskimos.
The Student Environmental Alliance, aware of this problem, hosted a home winterization how-to session Nov. 15 to show students various cheap and simple ways they can make their homes more energy efficient in the winter months.
“A lot of people probably feel a lack of responsibility to their home since they rent,” SEA co-president Shane Sessions said. “But once they see it comes out of their utility bill, they see the benefit of making their home more energy efficient.”
Hosted in conjunction with BREW week, this event was intended to be a service to Concordia students while simultaneously helping students serve their environment, Kristi Del Veccio explained.
“An act of service can be educating someone to better their lives, home and community,” said Del Veccio, who is an assistant commissioner for Campus Service Commission.
SEA co-presidents Nathaniel Cook and Sessions explained that the cost of winterizing one’s home is less than the cost of heating it. They compared home winterization to creating a building envelope, focusing on reducing heat loss. According to the United States Department of Energy, up to 30 percent of energy is lost through air leaks in a house.
To combat this heat loss, they demonstrated multiple ways to reduce air infiltration, including weather stripping windows and doors, attaching plastic covers to windows and using caulk to seal seams and cracks.
With the supplies mostly donated from Concordia Facilities Management, they were able to provide materials like windows and wooden corners to make the presentation as realistic as possible.
After demonstrating how each should be done, they then broke the crowd into three groups to practice each technique on their own.
“They’ve shown us that there are lots of easy steps we can do [to winterize our homes] and that it’s not as intimidating as it seems,” said senior Sara Adam after a lesson on caulking.
By providing faux corners made from plywood nailed together, Sessions showed how to apply caulk to cracks and corners. After following the instructions of that particular type of caulk, which typically costs around $5, he explained that the excess can be removed by cutting a square corner out of an old credit card or piece of cardboard to leave the jamb looking professional and flat.
Junior Mike Wilson said that drafts were a big problem in his home, and that the demonstration how to apply a plastic covering over the window was informative. The presenters suggested that using a plastic window insulation kit, approximately $5, is performed easiest with two people, so one person can apply the double-sided tape to the outside of the window frame while the other pulls the plastic covering tight and attaches it to the tape. Using a hair dryer to heat the plastic and remove wrinkles ensure that it is pulled as taught as possible.
“This could definitely help anybody living off campus in the wintertime,” Wilson said.
Sessions demonstrated multiple ways to use door weather stripping, a way to decrease drafts that are caused by gaps between the external door and the doorjamb. They explained that rubber and foam types, while being slightly cheaper, won’t last as long as Q-lon, an extremely durable type of weather stripping that isn’t affected by sub-zero temperatures. In most cases, this product applies to the doorframe like double-sided tape. Another draft minimizing product is a door sweep, which can be screwed onto the bottom of a door, which is where most older homes experience the most drafts, Cook said. One can pick up Q-lon weather stripping for around $8 and a door sweep for under $10.
Another aspect students can consider to save money and energy is their energy consumption.
“People can decrease their energy bill by just changing their everyday habits,” Cook said.
The USDE said that for every one degree homeowners turn down their thermostat, they can save 1-3 percent of their energy bill. To save some money without freezing during the day, students can consider installing programmable thermostats, which allow one to automatically turn down their heat at night and turn it up during the day. Cook explained that while these thermostats cost around $50, they can save up to $180 a year through lower energy costs.
Sessions and Cook also suggested unplugging appliances when they are not being used, as this uses up to 30 percent of an appliance’s energy consumption, according to the USDE.
“None of these cost that much money, but in the end you’re saving a lot,” Sessions said. “You’ll make the money back, and they’ll last forever.”
Cook said that before making any permanent changes to a home, students should contact their landlords and discuss energy-saving options. However, weather stripping and plastic window coverings should be able to be installed or removed without making a permanent impact.
Buchanan and Tjaden went home armed with weather stripping and caulk, which they won as door prizes, ready to put their new information and talents to use. While they knew these techniques existed, they were nervous to try them out before the hands-on practice they got at the lecture.
“It’s the easy fixes like this that really are going to make a difference,” Tjaden said.
Position at the Concordian: PULSE writer; Year in School: Sophomore; Hometown: West Fargo, North Dakota; Favorite Newspaper: The Washington Times; Favorite Magazine: Vanity Fair; Favorite Writer: Jodi Picoult