A Look Inside Walk-Throughs -- Faribault's Energy Action Plan

Faribault businesses reaping benefits of refrigeration assessments

When it comes to efficiency in the kitchen, Janna Viscomi knows a thing or two.

She and husband Bernie, who own Bernie’s Grill in Faribault, have spent more than a decade providing quality breakfast for their patrons. However, even though sizzling up menu items has become second nature over time, ensuring the coolers and freezers are working efficiently was outside of her expertise.

It’s what led to a visit last month as part of Xcel Energy’s Commercial Refrigeration Assessment, an educational walk-through available through a City of Faribault partnership. The visits are free of charge for qualified customers, are rather quick and don’t affect day-to-day operations.

Refrigeration Consultant Tyson Borom took a peek through Bernie’s appliances in an effort to make energy-efficient improvements, and as a result, save the building owners a few hundred dollars a year.

During the assessment, Borom not only cleaned all of the coils within the coolers and freezers, he also installed a new low-flow, pre-rinse sprayer in the kitchen. Regularly cleaning the evaporator or condensing coils eliminates the all-too-common insufficient airflow, which leads to higher energy bills.

They may be small steps, but they certainly add up – clean coils can save up to $100 on an annual basis. And that’s just the beginning of Borom’s work.

After identifying serial numbers and digging deeper into the cooler and freezer systems – often the leading energy consumers for grocery stores – Borom was able to determine that replacing the four energy-inefficient fan motors with electronically commutated motors (ECMs) would result in roughly $300 in annual cost savings.

The cost of replacing the motors would top $1,000 for the initial investment, but the recommended fans, which create less heat and run much more efficiently, would also result in a one-time payment of $280, as part of an Xcel Energy rebate.

In total, Xcel Energy offers one-time rebates on more than 10 types of equipment upgrades, and they’re available with little effort. In Viscomi’s case, Borom was able to find the necessary improvements and equipment, plus he’s able to coordinate the project from start to finish – including the rebate application.

The two-year partnership between the City of Faribault and Xcel Energy, known as “Partners in Energy,” is designed to support communities in developing and implementing energy action plans to drive community-driven goals around energy.

Saving energy is one of many key points within the city’s Community Vision-2040, which lays the groundwork for future planning. The city is working to reduce community-wide energy expenditure by 1 percent annually from business as usual (2015 baseline). By 2040, this is estimated to save Faribault residents and businesses over $8 million a year, with accumulated savings of over $100 million.

“Efficient use of clean and affordable energy is important to our continued success as a community,” said David Wanberg, Faribault city planner.

In addition to the business assessments, more than 120 Faribault households have received visits from a “Home Energy Squad,” the equivalent of the business assessment but on a residential level. Faribault kicked off a campaign in October 2017 and it continues through October 2019, with a goal of 100 visits per year.

If you’re interested in more information regarding the campaign and how you can save energy and money, contact a Home Energy Squad Adviser at 866-222-4595, or call Wanberg at 507-334-0100.

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Home Energy Visit Proves Beneficial for Faribault Family

Each month, Kathy and Robert Wente open the envelope from Xcel ​​Energy and look at their energy consumption report and wonder, “how are we using so much?” ​​

They’ve installed LED bulbs, their water heater and furnace are both relatively new, and as such, pretty efficient. They believe they’re making smart decisions as it relates to energy consumption, yet the monthly report keeps them thinking, “what else can we do?” ​​

When they came across a publication highlighting “Home Energy Squad Enhanced Visits,” Robert inquired further, and eventually set up an appointment. 

These visits – a $600 value – are provided by Xcel Energy and are one of the strategies outlined in the City of Faribault’s Energy Action Plan to help residents save money. The appointments include direct installation of energy saving items, and walkthroughs that allow energy specialists to perform diagnostic testing within one’s home, determining where improvements can be made. ​​​​

While one specialist walks through the residence with the homeowner, pointing out energy saving opportunities, the other completes an attic and wall insulation inspection, followed by a blower door test to see how leaky or tight the home is. ​

Beginning this fall, the City of Faribault is doing a special campaign to connect residents to the Home Energy Squad. The in-depth visits that normally cost $100 are available on a first-come, first-serve basis to 40 homes this fall for just $80. At that price, the Wentes knew the visit would be worth it, so they put it on their calendar. ​​​​ 

Claire Swanback and Brent Bateman – an energy councilor and technician with the Home Energy Squad – performed the Wente’s walkthrough, and were impressed with what they already had in place. However, with diagnostic testing equipment, such as thermal image testing, a combustion safety test and carbon monoxide check, they could dig even deeper toward the root cause of the high-energy bill. ​​  ​​

Depending on the products in place, homeowners could receive LED bulbs, water heater insulation and temperature assessment, a programmable thermostat, weather stripping, high-efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators during the visit. Those products are all included in the discounted $80 fee. ​​ 

The Wentes had several weather strips installed, welcomed a few suggestions for more efficient thermostat programming and now know that they need additional insulation in their attic. Robert had a suspicion about the attic insulation, due to the warmth in the home once some snow settles on the roof during the winter months. However, until the specialists were able to look deeper, it remained just a suspicion. ​​ ​​

As they worked through their final Home Energy Report, the Wentes even received a quote in hand for the added insulation, along with a long list of resources and appointments with an energy advisor, who will touch base with homeowners periodically after the visit. ​​ ​

The educational energy outreach that connected the Wentes to the Home Energy Squad program is a direct result of the City of Faribault participating in Xcel Energy’s “Partners in Energy” – a two-year offering designed to support communities in developing and implementing an energy action plan to drive community-driven goals around energy.

​ ​​“Efficient use of clean and affordable energy is important to our continued success as a community,” said David Wanberg, Faribault city planner. “Home Energy Squad visits can help Faribault residents identify ways to conserve energy use in their home, which in turn can help residents reduce their energy costs and improve the livability of their home.” ​​​​

Saving energy is one of many key points within the city’s Community Vision – 2040, which lays the groundwork for future planning. ​​​​ Faribault was selected by Xcel Energy to be the seventh Partners in Energy community in Minnesota and now the city is working to reduce community-wide energy expenditure by 1 percent annually from business as usual (2015 baseline). By 2040, this is estimated to save Faribault residents and businesses over $8 million a year, with accumulated savings of over $100 million. ​​ ​​ 

“A Home Energy Squad Enhanced visit is a great way to start finding ways to save energy in your home,” said Jean Hammer, Xcel Energy’s program manager for Home Energy Squad. “We’re excited to work with Faribault to provide services that help customers save energy immediately and for the long term.” ​​

While the Wentes were one of the first households to inquire, after seeing the results, they know they won’t be the last.  To see if you’re eligible for a Home Energy Squad walk-through, visit http://www.homeenergysquad.net/.