Energy educators help student renters save cash and the environment

On a recent sunny fall afternoon, Derek Leung and Melodi Yanik knocked on the door of a student apartment off 18th Avenue, a few blocks from the University of Oregon campus.

Once inside, the UO students began talking to the tenants about how they could both save money and be better stewards of the environment by taking simple steps to curb energy consumption.

Leung and Yanik are energy educators for $CORE, or Student and Community Outreach on Renter Efficiency. The student-run program, in its second year at the University of Oregon, is intended to help students save money by making their off-campus digs more energy efficient.

The program was founded in 2012 by Weston Cooper, now a senior majoring in Finance in the Clark Honors College, and James Walter, who has since graduated. They got the idea from a similar program at University of Colorado, which estimates students can save up to $60 a month becoming more energy efficient.

“That first utility bill is wake-up call for a lot of students,” he said. “Hopefully the first utility bill after we (do an energy audit) proves it’s worth it.”

Last year, the UO program, overseen by the Office of Sustainability, performed energy audits on 40 housing units, plus two fraternity houses, Cooper said.

The idea is to address a problem common in college towns. Students have little incentive to undertake energy efficiency projects since they are merely tenants. Landlords have little incentive because their tenants pay the energy bills.

“We’re able to bridge that” split incentive, Cooper said, “by providing free efficiency upgrades and encouraging behavioral changes — easy changes.”

Student tenants can request energy educators come to their home for an energy audit, and if at least half the residents are there, they get a coupon for a free pizza. The educators bring a kit that includes compact fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow shower heads, weather stripping, pipe insulation and other simple tools for saving energy.

After handing over a pizza coupon, Leung and Yanik went through their checklist and asked tenant Nolan Cogan how many mini fridges were in the unit. The answer: three mini fridges, plus a regular fridge in the kitchen.

“We should unplug one of those,” said Cogan, a junior studying business. “We have excessive fridge space.”

Cogan said he was happy to spend an hour for an energy audit, and not just to save a few bucks each month on utility bills.

“Free light bulbs, free pizza and you’re helping the Earth,” he said.

For more information and to request an energy audit, visit the $CORE Web site.

Tim Christie