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Clyburn tours home weatherized by program he helped make possible

KINGSTREE, S.C. — In the summer of 2013, Van and Leslie Dukes couldn’t wait to move into their newly purchased home. Built in 1971, the Kingstree residence seemed like the perfect place for the couple to raise their family.

“We were excited,” said Van Dukes. “The house was much larger than our previous home. It gave us the room we needed for our kids.”

By the fall of 2013, the Dukeses' excitement turned into regret. They hadn’t considered the effects of living in an older home that wasn’t energy efficient—and it was costing them. Beyond wasting energy, the home’s aging HVAC systems needed to be replaced, doors needed to be sealed, and windows needed to be caulked. But the family didn’t have the resources to fix any of those issues.

“We thought we had made a huge mistake,” said Leslie Dukes. “As the weather cooled down, our power bills went up. That fall, our highest bill was more than $600.”

Van contacted Santee Electric Cooperative for assistance. He was introduced to Santee Electric Cooperative’s Help My House® program, which provides low-interest loans for home energy efficiency improvements. The program eliminates up-front charges that prevent many homeowners from making such repairs, covering 100 percent of improvement costs and allowing eligible cooperative members to repay the loan monthly on their utility bill—a process known as on-bill financing.

Santee Electric employees performed an energy audit on the Dukeses’ home. They discovered multiple areas that needed improvement, such as the utility room, attic, and kitchen. Through the Help My House program, Van and Leslie were able to improve their home’s comfort and energy efficiency, all while saving money on their monthly energy bill.

Cooperatives are excited to expand the reach of on-bill financing with help from the new Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), an idea first proposed in 2010 by U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and approved by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. Piloted for the first time this year, RESP makes $52 million available to co-ops and their affiliates to help consumers implement cost-effective, energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.

South Carolina electric cooperative officials have secured $13 million of RESP, one fourth of the national RESP budget.

On Aug. 30, Rep. James E. Clyburn toured the Dukeses’ home for a first-hand look at how the program he helped start is working.

Energy efficiency and savings

The Dukeses got several important upgrades. Two new Energy Star heat pumps, rated at 14 and 14.5 SEER, replaced the old 6.5 and 12 SEER units that had failed. (The higher the unit's SEER rating the more energy efficient it is.) The old units, at 2.5-tons each, could be replaced by smaller 2-ton units because the home is better insulated and sealed against air leakage.

“The house had so many leaks, the Dukeses were air conditioning the outside,” said Jay Kirby, manager of marketing at Santee Electric. “If you added all the leaks together, it was comparable to having a 4.5-foot hole cut into their wall. Thanks to Help My House, their leaks have been reduced by more than half.”

“Many homes also have ductwork that leaks,” Kirby said. “The ductwork on this house was losing much of the air that went through it. By sealing the ductwork with mastic, a putty-like waterproof filler, the Dukes family reduced much of this air loss."

Workers added insulation in the attic of the home, increasing it to R38 from R19. (R-values describe the thermal resistance of insulation materials.) The higher the number, the more effective the insulation is at resisting heat flow.

The Dukeses have seen a decrease in their monthly power bill because of these energy upgrades. Even after they include their on-bill loan repayment, they are still saving money each month. 

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Electric cooperatives are independent companies; therefore, one cooperative’s programs and services are not necessarily the same as others. Help My House® programs are operated by Aiken (Aiken), Black River (Sumter), Little River (Abbeville), and Santee (Kingstree) electric cooperatives.  

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