Click here to read more about Project Conserve.
by Joni Astrup
Stacy Parker had her children in mind when she jumped on the Project Conserve bandwagon.
“I’m not a tree hugger at all. I’m a modern-day mom just wanting to make small steps for my children,” said Parker, an Elk River mother of two young daughters.
She sees Project Conserve as one way to teach her children to not waste, to not be “energy hogs” and to reuse as much as possible.
Parker, her husband, Cleon and their daughters, Nova and Pria, were one of 121 households participating in Project Conserve II. It is a program designed to teach people simple ways to conserve energy, save money on their heating, electrical, and water bills, reduce landfilled waste, save on transportation, and live an overall greener lifestyle. Project Conserve II wrapped up late last year and a new group of 233 households is now going through the year-long program, according to Elk River Environmental Administrator Rebecca Haug.
The program is part of the city of Elk River’s Energy City initiative.
She recycles a lot of trash
One area Parker has homed in on is garbage. Her family now either recycles or composts much of the trash they generate.
Cans, glass and other recyclables are picked up at curbside. The Parkers also participate in an organics recycling program, in which food waste and other organic materials are collected at the curb and taken to Rosemount to be turned into compost.
The family has cut down on their trash so much that they were able to switch to the smallest garbage container available — a 32-gallon one. And they only need to have garbage picked up every other week.
The bottom line is the Parkers pay about $7.50 a month for garbage services, plus another $4 a month for the organics recycling. Because they recycle they qualify for a $40 annual rebate from the city of Elk River, further reducing the total bill.
Meanwhile, the Parkers also went through an energy audit as part of Project Conserve. She said that was interesting and showed that their house, which they built in 2007, was pretty energy efficient.
Other changes include dialing back the timer on the sprinkler system to 10 minutes and switching to cloth diapers.
Overall, the Parkers and the other households on their team saved the most energy of the participants, and each family won a weekend at either Breezy Point Resort or the Holiday Inn, Otsego.
Parker is a big fan of the Project Conserve program. Family members living in San Diego and Phoenix have nothing like it, she said.
“Here in little Elk River, Minnesota, I feel like we’re making a difference,” she said.
Energy audit, blower door test were helpful
Richard and Kathy Simonson also participated in Project Conserve II. Kathy said they found an evaluation of their home to identify places where heat was being lost was very informative. That energy audit included a blower door test. A blower door is a machine used to measure the airtightness of structures, according to Tom Sagstetter of Elk River Municipal Utilities. The test helps pinpoint leaks around doors and windows and areas where more insulation is needed (For more information, see page xx).
In the case of the Simonsons, that led them to add more insulation and do a lot of caulking around windows and so forth. They also learned that entries into their attic were places where they were losing heat, and how insulating those areas better could help.
Kathy said they found other things helpful as well, such as information about phantom electrical use, Energy Star appliances, recycling, rain gardens and water usage.
Regarding water, Kathy said she learned this area sits on the edge of an aquifer. “As it gets depleted, our area is going to see that first,” she said. “That was a big eye-opener to me.”
In general, she said she’s interested in doing what she can to save money and energy and found a lot of the ideas to be practical and easy to do.
One aspect of the program Tim Steinbeck found most helpful was having a team come to his home to do the blower door test.
“It helped us find a few leaks,” he said. “It also confirmed that our windows weren’t as bad as we thought so we’re just going to do some repair versus replacing windows. That was helpful.”
Steinbeck, an engineer who is manager of the Elk River Resource Recovery Project and a member of the Elk River Energy City Commission, said overall the Project Conserve program was well run and covered the topics well.
“They’re doing a good job in really educating our residents that want to participate,” he said.
For many involved in Project Conserve it not only encourages green living, it translates into a different kind of green — money.
People who implemented energy-saving measures also reduced their electricity, natural gas and water bills. The highest individual savings among Project Conserve II participants was $620 a year; three participants saved more than $500 a year, according Haug.
Project Conserve II results
•119 participants saved 72,148 kWh. That’s enough to keep a compact fluorescent lamp or CFL burning for four months.
•Average savings: 606 kWh or a 6 percent decrease
•Highest savings: $773 or 7,430 kWh
•70 participants on city water saved 514,148 gallons of water — enough to fill Elk River’s historic water tower on Jackson Avenue five times.
•Average savings: 7,346 gallons or 13 percent
•Highest savings: $138 or 68,760 gallons
•87 participants saved 1,230 CCF. That’s enough to provide all the natural gas for a year for five average homes in Minnesota.
•Average savings: 14 CCF or a 2 percent reduction
•Highest savings: $301 or 351 CCF
Total dollar savings
•The highest individual savings among Project Conserve II participants was $620 a year; three participants saved more than $500 a year.
Source: City of Elk River, Elk River Municipal Utilities