NEWPORT NEWS — Patty VonOhlen knew her home wasn't the most energy efficient in the city.
"We have ample space for air to come through. The ductwork, I know was a problem. I could see places where the ductwork was hanging and sagging," she said.
Hampton-based Green Job Alliance, set up by former Hampton councilman Randy Gilliland, to stage a green intervention, known as a retrofit at the Newport News home on River Road that is about 70 years old.
A team first visited in January and did tests. Improvements were carried out by Rick Jenkins of the Hampton-based contractor Lean & Green who fitted new insulation in a crawl space under the house. The house was re-tested on Wednesday.
"We made a 14 percent difference just by sealing the crawl space," said Jenkins.
Most of the big energy savings are made on older homes, but Jenkins says he will be working on a house in Virginia Beach next week that was built in 1992.
Daniel Cwik, the Green Job Alliance's consultant for the retrofit, said the program aims for a 15 percent saving on utility bills. The test includes the use of a blower door fitted over the front door of the house.
The blower door is a frame with a canvass and a fan. It's linked to software that calculates the pressure difference between the inside and the outside of the house to find out how much air is escaping through gaps, Cwik said.
The team also looks for insulation upgrades in areas such as the attic and the crawl space. They test the sealing on the ductwork.
"We also want contractors to check the homeowners are replacing the filters," said Cwik.
The team then looks at Tier 2 "energy star" improvements under a federal program which includes improving heating and cooling systems and putting insulation around water heaters in garages and installing improved thermostats and replacing inefficient windows and sky lights.
The improvements are subsidized by the alliance which has been the recipient of more than $5 million in federal grants to make the region more energy efficient under a Department of Energy program.
The Green Jobs Alliance provides up to $250 toward the energy home assessment and 25 percent of the cost of air sealing, duct sealing and insulation up to $2,500 and 25 percent of the cost of further improvements to heaters, windows and HVAC systems up to $1,500.
The tests carried out last Wednesday found 19 percent less leakage in VonOhlen's house than in January.
She will now consider whether to opt for additional energy savings.
"We've had a fair amount done," she said. "My primary reasons are moral integrity reasons. I'm aware of how much coal burning power plants pollute the air."
Leslie Holthoff, who is the liaison with contractors for the Green Jobs Alliance, said four other retrofits were done the last week and 10 or 11 are scheduled next week in Hampton Roads. The alliance works with homeowners in 16 localities from Williamsburg in the north to Southampton County in the west.
The largest number of retrofits have been done in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, she said.
The alliance's first year ends on May 31. "In year one, we were to design a home performance with Energy Star program and run a pilot phase of the program," said Gilliland.