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The Rundown: On a "Green House Call" in Albany

On a recent afternoon, two young people paid a visit to an Albany resident, who learned ways to save more energy. Learn how to get your own "green house call" at http://patch.com/A-jZVZ.

Over the last three weeks, eight youths have been dispersed about town, paying “” to Albany residents interested in conserving energy.

They have checked for leaky pipes, replaced aerators on faucets and installed energy-efficient bulbs to at least 53 homes in Albany.

They’re known as “energy specialists” and their goal is to teach residents a thing or two about saving water and energy. In teams of two, they visit one to three homes in Albany each day. The youths will be in the city until Aug. 11 offering this free service to all residents.

With a backpack of tools in tow, and a clipboard in hand, two energy specialists knocked on the door of Loraine Woodward, a teacher and Albany resident on Adams Street, on a recent Wednesday.

The specialists at the door were 17-year-old Rachel Burns, who will be a senior at  in the fall, and 19-year-old Christian Vento. Vento is a recent Albany High grad home for the summer after his first year at Sonoma State University

Woodward, 48, took the teens through the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home she shares with her husband, two teenage sons and young daughter.

She said she first learned about the green house calls at a booth at the city's . She likes to find new ways to save energy, she added, and also likes to support young people. She found that by signing up for a green house call, she does both. 

“You have so many CFLs,” said Vento to Woodward, noting the many energy-efficient bulbs already installed in the hallways and bedrooms throughout the home. 

Diligently, the pair began their rounds. They first inspected the restrooms, where they dropped a blue tablet in the tank of each toilet. Vento told Woodward that, if the blue dye of the tablet makes its way to the toilet bowl, it means there’s a leak.

They also changed two light bulbs in the bathroom for the master bedroom. The original ones used 65 to 70 watts, which produces more heat and thus wastes more energy. The more efficient bulbs the team put in, Vento said, use 15 to 20 watts, shine just as bright and use less energy. 

“That’s what I like about all the things we install,” said Burns. “They save lots of energy, but you can't tell a difference.” 

The team moved on to the hallway restroom and checked the water fixtures. Burns inspected the shower head above, and Vento took a look at the sink faucet. Even energy-efficient in how he works, Vento wrapped the opening of a "flow bag" around the faucet to catch water as he inspected the water pressure. The bag has measured markings that scale up, indicating how much water is released per minute.

“Would you like to water any plants?” asked Vento, handing Woodward the flow bag after counting for five seconds and inspecting the water level. It showed that two gallons of water per minute came out each time the knob was turned. 

“It’s less efficient than we’d like,” said Burns. Vento explained to Woodward that he would like to install a new aerator. This water-saving mechanism, which is screwed around the mouth of the faucet, introduces air into the water flow, using less water but maintaining the pressure. 

They also installed a new shower head, reducing its flow from 3.6 gallons of water per minute to 2.5. 

"It's better than the one I had before," said Woodward as she reached into the tub to try it out. (The team bagged the old hardware to take away, but all the pieces can be returned at the owner's request.)

Burns and Vento are among nearly 100 energy specialists who have been trained by the  in Berkeley this summer. They spend their first week in training, learning not only the principles of conservation but how to work together as a team and interact with clients. 

“It’s great professionalism they’re learning,” said Naveed Desai, a community outreach manager for California Youth Energy Services.

Desai is supervising youth in Albany until the program ends in mid-August. He popped in last week to ensure the energy specialists had the equipment they needed and that the visit was going smoothly.

The Rising Sun Energy Center in Berkeley began its summer program 11 years ago. This is the first year it expanded its services to Albany. Funded by the California Public Utilities CommissionPG&E and private donations, the house calls and energy-saving fixtures are provided at no cost to residents.  

After inspecting the kitchen, checking the pipes underneath the sink, the faucet and the dials on the refrigerator, the energy specialists found that all were within energy-efficient standards.

“You were already ahead of the curve. That’s really good,” said Vento to Woodward.

The two wrapped up their visit by giving Woodward a rundown of the services they provided. They also gave her some additional energy-saving tips: Did you know cleaning the coils behind the fridge once a year reduces energy? So does keeping your stovetop clean. 

“I learned all these new ideas,” said Woodward, who added that she was pleased with the visit and even more so with the energy specialists. “It’s great that they’re young and into the environment.”

Learn how to sign up for your own free assessment at http://patch.com/A-jZVZ.

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at emilier@patch.com. 

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