Power to the people

City organizes energy workshops in older-home neighborhoods

Bryce Goldstein, who coordinates sustainability efforts for the city of Chico, cites heating and cooling as significant ways homes in older neighborhoods can benefit from low-cost, energy-saving improvements.

Bryce Goldstein, who coordinates sustainability efforts for the city of Chico, cites heating and cooling as significant ways homes in older neighborhoods can benefit from low-cost, energy-saving improvements.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Neighborhood workshops:
Chapman—Wednesday (May 31), 6 p.m., Subud Hall, 574 E. 12th St.
Barber—June 7, 6 p.m., ARC Pavilion, 2040 Park Ave.
Avenues—June 14, 6 p.m., Enloe Conference Center, 1528 Esplanade.
More info: www.chicosustainability.org

In just over eight months, Bryce Goldstein has become a familiar face in Chico. She’s one of 68 CivicSpark fellows placed by AmeriCorps across California; after graduating from Humboldt State, Goldstein came in September to help coordinate the city’s climate-action endeavors.

While much of her work is administrative—analyzing data, setting up websites, conferring with local green groups—she’s championed sustainability to thousands of passersby at farmers’ market events downtown.

Now she’s bringing the message to where people live.

In partnership with the Butte Environmental Council and North Valley Energy Watch, Goldstein and Brendan Vieg of the city’s Planning Services Department have arranged three neighborhood home energy efficiency workshops. The sessions will take place three successive Wednesday evenings starting next week (May 31) in the Chapman, Barber and Avenues neighborhoods (see infobox for details).

There’s no charge—in fact, organizers are giving things away: ice cream, LED light bulbs, ChicoBags, Klean Kanteens and prizes. Each program will be the same and run one hour.

The idea is to introduce residents, particularly those in older houses, to the spectrum of low-cost, cost-saving options available.

“We know that generally older houses are more poorly insulated [than newer homes], have single-pane windows, older appliances and fixtures,” Goldstein said. “It’s hard to keep them warm or cool, depending on the season. So they use a lot more energy.”

“They present the best opportunity to do quick, easy, small fixes,” continued Vieg, Chico’s principal planner. “So what would be better than holding energy-efficiency workshops in our three oldest neighborhoods?”

If the response is positive, Goldstein and Vieg said the city would look to hold more workshops elsewhere.

“The goal is not to be preachy [nor] to talk about, or focus on, greenhouse gas emissions, that bigger issue,” Vieg added. “It’s really to find a win-win situation and share with people that there’s a way to reduce their energy bills, as we’re seeing rates increase.”

Goldstein agrees that tone is important. She considers it paramount to make the workshops “accessible to people, less scary to people, less political” than a nonenvironmentalist might stereotype. Becoming sustainable does not demand a social commitment, or an expensive purchase such as an electric car, Goldstein said—“you can replace your light bulbs and just do simple things to be more energy-efficient.” She’ll provide such suggestions to those who visit her booth at the workshops.

Becky Holden from Butte Environmental Council will conduct the presentations with Leo Guerra from Richard Heath & Associates. RHA performs building inspections and retrofits under a contract with North Valley Energy Watch—an energy-efficiency program operating on grant funding from PG&E.

The workshops fall within an overarching campaign, the Million Watt Challenge, in which Chico aims to reduce electricity usage by that amount by the end of 2017. The city’s Sustainability Task Force, with whom Goldstein works, identified businesses and vintage dwellings as focal points after assessing power consumption. Businesses offer “big bang for the buck,” Vieg said, while the areas chosen for workshops have “a direct correlation to where we saw a large ‘sink’ of energy use, the older neighborhoods with older housing stock.”

Holden, BEC’s assistant director, said her nonprofit is participating to help the city advance its climate action goals.

“The workshops are going to be a fun way to get people involved and spread the word about different types of programs that are available for home energy efficiency,” she said by phone. “It’ll be … a positive event to go to and it’ll really put a good spin on the whole idea of upgrading your house.

“It’s one of those things where we could do it now or later; if it’s free ice cream, it sounds like maybe it’ll be more fun to do it now.”

Incentives and rebates may turn a solar system or HVAC replacement into a sensible investment for certain individuals. Guerra will discuss these sorts of options. However, as Goldstein mentioned, homeowners don’t necessarily have to invest in big-ticket items to save money.

Holden, too, is hip to quick fixes.

Along with replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, she recommends swapping standard showerheads with low-flow versions, plus taking shorter showers. Saving water—hot water in particular—saves energy.

Holden also points to air leaks in inconspicuous spots: crawl spaces, drier vents, fan vents, recessed lights, holes behind outlets and switches.

“There are products that are very inexpensive for helping to seal up some of those drafts,” she said, “and you would really be able to notice it in the extreme months like the hot, hot summers or the very cold parts of the winter.”

Insulation and weather-stripping yields additional protection, cost-effectively.

The workshops will cover more topics—but not exhaustively. Said Vieg: “This is just a tip-of-the-iceberg introduction.”