How is your house performing? Take the neighborhood energy challenge!

Did you really turn off the TV set after the last show ended late last night? Will insulation alone stop air leaks in your attic? Is your water heater set too hot or too cold? Why does your home feel drafty?


The Neighborhood Energy Challenge—a free energy workshop—offers a good look at ways to reduce waste and save energy costs around the house. The next NEC workshop is coming up from 10-11 a.m. on Saturday, November 19, in the Community Room at Rochester Public Utilities, 4000 East River Road N.E. The class is free, although prior registration is requested. Additional classes are being planned for 2017.

 The class, which takes less than an hour, explores potential savings of electricity, fuel and water in everyday living. It’s designed “to get (participants) to make changes in the way that they use energy and then to get them to start thinking about making energy efficiency improvements as home improvement ideas,” says Stacy Boots Camp of the nonprofit Center for Energy and Environment, which conducts the workshops. They are co-sponsored in Rochester by RPU and Minnesota Energy Resources Corp., the city’s natural gas supplier.

Once homeowners have attended the class, they are eligible for a professional, home energy audit at a discounted price to put those energy-saving ideas into practice. The energy auditor analyzes homes for critical energy factors such as air flow in the house, insulation effectiveness in the attic and obvious air or water leaks, among others. 


“I think most people don’t really know about the air sealing,” says Boots Camp, who is recruitment and outreach coordinator for CEE. “They think as long as they have enough insulation, that’s good enough, but the air sealing part is very important.” Air sealing involves filling in gaps around pipes or chimneys, and other attic openings. It is important to stop ice dams and costly energy losses. 

“It’s amazing what you can do with just some caulk and finding air gaps,” says Jill Mickelson, who has taken the Neighborhood Energy Challenge twice in recent years. She is a former volunteer member of the Rochester Energy Commission and works as an environmental engineer with consulting firm Braun Intertec in Rochester. 

Mickelson wanted help to locate energy savings for her northeast Rochester home built in 1965. During the NEC energy audit, she and husband, David, learned that they could save significant loss of energy in heated air by plugging the house’s fireplace chimney. They inserted a special heavy-duty balloon to block the air loss, saving energy and money. They also installed a new boiler for their hot water heat system.

 “When it came time for those purchase decisions, we were not just looking at the one-time expense. We were looking at the longtime energy costs,” Mickelson says. 

NEC participants want to know about the small operations that go into a house. “It seems that people want to talk about light bulbs the most,” Boots Camp says. “When wintertime comes around, people will ask about ice dams,” she says. “That’s a big topic.” 


People who would like to attend the NEC session on November 19 can enroll at no charge through Rochester Community Education. For questions, contact Boots Camp at
or 1-888-734-6365. 

Each participant will be eligible for a professional energy audit through G.A. Ernst & Associates at a base cost of $50. Each participating household also will receive some small, energy saving products for use around the home.  

NEC got its start with state grants from proceeds of the Minnesota Lottery in 2010. The Rochester NEC program won the Community Partnership Award in November 2015 from the Rochester Energy Commission and its underlying Committee on Urban Design and Environment.  

Bob Freund is a Rochester-based writer.