Forum message at church is, be energy-efficient

AMHERST – Rising energy costs are a looming crisis, according to the First Baptist Church of Amherst, whose members are preaching that conservation can save big bucks.

On Sunday, the church held its first energy forum to help homeowners cut their heating bills. Parishioner Joe Boisvert, who has done 31 energy audits for the members of the congregation, led the discussion about ways homeowners can reduce energy costs by up to 40 percent.

Boisvert, of Mont Vernon, has been a troubleshooter for the chemical industry for 30 years. He said he wants to apply the skills he learned in business to help homeowners.

If people don’t become more energy efficient then they will have a hard time keeping pace with the rising costs, Boisvert said.

Some people Boisvert said he spoke to earn $14,000 a year but will have to pay $643 a month this year when they paid $300 a month last year.

About a dozen people attended the forum. Boisvert said the low attendance indicated people aren’t fully aware of what’s in store this winter

“It’s really scary what the costs are,” Boisvert said while standing at the church’s pulpit. “It will start hitting home when people get their energy bills.”

The good news is there are relatively easy ways for homeowners to stretch their heating dollars by becoming more efficient. Boisvert created a checklist, available through the church, to help homeowners find ways to improve their homes.

One way to reduce fuel costs by 20 percent is to use a programmable thermostat to reduce the house’s temperature by 5 degrees when everyone is away, according to Boisvert’s checklist. Will Dean, another parishioner, spoke to this point during the forum.

The thermostat should be set at 68 degrees when you’re home, they said.

A well-functioning furnace is key to energy efficiency. An oil, propane or natural gas furnace should burn about 85 percent of the fuel it consumes. If it’s only burning 70 percent, that means 30 cents of every dollar is being wasted. This percentage is called the primary combustion rate. A primary combustion rate over 85 percent is considered efficient.

If it’s lower, then a repairperson can check to make sure the furnace is set properly. Sometimes minor adjustments will boost the primary combustion rate, he said.

In the summer, people with oil furnaces with tankless water heaters should reduce the temperature of the water from 180 degrees to 120 degrees. This will save money for the homeowner and will decrease the chances of people getting scalded when they run their faucets.

In the winter months, people need to maintain a water temperature of 180 degrees. To prevent people from being burned by hot water, the homeowner should adjust the water heater’s mixing valve. The mixing valve adds cold water, so that people running a faucet aren’t hit with 180-degree water.

Both Boisvert and parishioner Paul Tripp spoke about the importance of insulation. Many houses have drafty areas that are costing money for the owner, they said. Most homes have about 6 inches of insulation in places where there should be 20 inches, said Boisvert.

Even new homes may not have enough insulation, parishioner Hilary Sonner, of Mont Vernon, told those attending. She said her home is 7 years old, but when Boisvert came to her home, he found she didn’t have enough insulation her attic. That situation has been corrected.

“I’m looking forward to saving a lot of money this winter,” Sonner said.

Sonner, who works for the Better Business Bureau, said her agency has gotten a lot of calls from homeowners who were concerned that their oil companies were ripping them off. She said although there are some dishonorable businesses, some complaints came from people who just didn’t understand their bill. A good way to verify that a business is legitimate is to consult the Better Business Bureau.

The First Baptist Church of Amherst can be reached at 673-4063.