Energy Efficiency in Off-Campus Housing

May 13, 2021 / By: Stian Kvaal
car outside house
The Home Energy Squad arriving at Stian's house

Home energy efficiency is crucial to a sustainable planet. In Minnesota, more than 20% of total energy usage occurs in our homes [1]. Many homes in Minnesota burn natural gas, a fossil fuel, to generate heat in the cold months and hot water year-round. Additionally, over 40% of the electricity that Xcel Energy supplies to St. Paul was generated from either coal or natural gas power plants in 2019 [2]. When we consume less power, we reduce emissions from power plants and reduce the number of resources needed to provide energy.  

A common misconception among students is that is difficult to focus on energy in our homes, especially when our stay is only temporary. However, there are many quick and easy things we can do within our homes to conserve energy, improve our comfort, and save money at the same time. Students living off-campus may also communicate with their landlord about additional ways to improve efficiency and save energy in their homes. 

As I have worked to conserve energy in my off-campus home, know that understanding energy efficiency can be difficult. To learn how to improve energy efficiency in my home I worked with the Center for Environment and Energy (CEE) and their Home Energy SquadCEE partners with Xcel Energy to offer helpful information and resources to ensure year-round efficiency in your rental home. CEE’s Home Energy Squad offers both virtual and in-home visits designed to provide home-specific efficiency recommendations and energy improvements. 

CEE Virtual visit: 

The virtual visit is a quick and easy way to learn more about energy efficiency within your home. The virtual visit is offered at no cost to participants and lasts about an hourBefore the virtual meeting, you will be sent a questionnaire regarding the efficiency of your home. The questionnaire helps the energy squad assess home energy needs through questions regarding your concerns, efficiency, and pictures of your home's appliances. It is important to take some time to complete the questionnaire, as this improves the advisor's home energy recommendations.  

Based on the photos and information provided in the pre-visit questionnaire, the home energy advisor was able to give me advice regarding the efficiency of my home. The advisor suggested that the insulation, boiler, and water heater in my home were relatively old and inefficient, and he recommended that I talk with my landlord on improving insulation within my home.  

One thing I learned during the virtual visit was that I have a programmable thermostat within my home. This specific thermostat can be accessed via mobile phones to change the temperature throughout the day as people come and goApproximately 55% of a typical Minnesota home’s energy is used for heating and cooling [3]. Therefore, regularly adjusting your thermostat when the home is empty or when everyone is asleep represents a significant opportunity to save energy at no cost.  

After the virtual visit, you will be sent an Energy Fitness Plan report which summarizes findings and prioritizes the recommendations made by the energy advisor during the virtual visit. I found this report very helpful, as it contains additional ways you can save energy in your home, such as addressing air leaks and observing the efficiency of water heaters and boilers. Overall, I found the virtual visit to be very useful. I walked away better informed on ‘DIY’ ways to save energy, such as installing LED lightbulbs, addressing leaks in windows and doorways, and properly using the programmable thermostat. 

CEE in Home-Visit: 

The Energy Fitness Plan report gave me a good idea of the improvements that needed to be done within my home. It also helped me understand what an in-home visit may look like. After the virtual visit and reading through the Energy Fitness Plan report, I was excited to schedule an in-home visit. Based on the income of my household, I qualified for a free in-home visit with CEE’s home energy squad. Upon arrival, the Home Energy Squad requested a tour of my home. This is done to give the squad a good idea of the locations of water heaters, boilers, thermometers, etc. After about 20 minutes, the Home Energy Squad was able to assess where energy improvements could be made.  

One benefit of the home visit is that CEE offers on-site installations designed to increase efficiency with your home and save on energy costs immediately. This includes the installation of LED lightbulbs, weather stripping, water heater pipe wrap, and efficient showerheads. LED lightbulbs use significantly less energy than fluorescent lightbulbs and last much longer, lowering costs in your home. Weather-stripping doors and windows mitigate air leaks ensuring that heating and cooling are not being wasted. To keep pipes hot and minimize potential heat lossinsulation is installed on water heater pipesLastly, efficient showerheads are designed to use less water, improving efficiency.  

In my visit, the installations were quick and easy. The Home Energy Squad was friendly and helpful when it came to addressing my home energy needs. The Home Energy Squad provided me with many suggestions on simple lifestyle changes and home improvements that can lower energy costs. I was surprised to learn the home energy squad replaced a total of 22 lightbulbs with LED lightbulbs. After the visit, not only was I confident that energy can be conserved in my home, but I was excited to put what I learned to the test and start saving on energy costs! 

The services provided by CEE’s Home Energy Squad are a great first step to an efficient home and will help you identify energy-saving measures to implement now and in the future. I highly encourage college students to reach out to their landlords and CEE regarding a home energy visit and potential efficiency recommendations. Based on their income, many college students will qualify for a free in-home visit.  Committing to energy conservation can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and make a difference on the bills. Start investing in energy-savings today! 

To learn more and schedule a virtual or in-home visit with the Home Energy Squad click here  




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Check out this podcast in which Stian discusses his Home Energy Assessment experience with Off-Campus Student Life Neighborhood Assistants: