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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

How to Pick the Perfect Melon



Have you ever bought a melon in January only to find that your expectations of savoring this delicious summer pleasure are instantly blunted by a perfect exterior, but a really tasteless interior? There is nothing better than a fresh-from-the-field melon. But, why is there such a difference? 

While at the farmers' market, I chatted with a local man, who clearly knew his melons! He gave me several tips on how you can spot a melon, which is ripened to perfection. 

1.  Look for the yellow spot on the bottom. 




This is called the field spot and it should look "creamy", like butter, not bright white. It's a sign that it is field ripened, rather than picked too early or shipped in from a long distance and not allowed to ripen fully.

2. Even, dull coloration. 


Unlike your new car, you don't want a shiny melon. It's a sign that it's underripe. A melon that is slightly dull should be perfection. Additionally, the skin should not contain any splotches of unusual color or areas of discoloration or pitting.

3.  It sounds "hollow" when you thump it. 






A soft "plink" when you strike it with your index finger is a sign that it has not been allowed to become overly ripe. When the interior is too ripe, the flesh becomes more compact, resulting in a "dull thud" when strummed with your forefinger.


4. Sugar spots

A farmer friend told me to look for these years ago. They appear as black lines on the bottom of melons and are a sign that the plant was pollinated properly by lots of happy bees. A melon with black lines or even lines which appear to be weeping, are the sweetest specimens. 


5. Should feel heavy. 


The biggest is not always the best. Look for a symmetrical melon. Misshapen melons haven't ripened evenly. Also, pithy produce loses its firmness. As the melon begins to rot, it will lose weight, and feel lighter than others of comparable size.

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Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope


Saturday, September 7, 2019

How to Recognize and Reduce Surcharges and Convenience Fees



This is hard to admit, but I actually made the EXACT mistake that I tell you to avoid. For years now, I have been paying extra for our life insurance and I didn't even realize that I was doing it!  

How did I get charged this fee and not know it? 


Long story short, I recently had to deal with a couple of questions on our life insurance, which we pay quarterly. A few years ago, my husband, Larry, had called to ask if  we could be moved to a yearly payment. The representative he talked to gave him misinformation. They told him that it must be paid quarterly and that there was no discount for paying it once a year. 

However, when I called this week the lady on the other end of the phone asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with, today?" I answered, "Well, I'd love to pay these policies yearly, but I understand that that is not possible." She was stunned! "Yes, it is!" She immediately offered to change the two policies to yearly and I am now saving $60 a year! 

This whole experience made me ponder convenience fees and surcharges. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are very different. I had to do a bit of digging and more than a little research to get them straight in my head. But, I'm happy to pass on my findings to you, along with some tips for avoiding paying more than you need to for your bills, be they monthly or sporadic.

What are Convenience Fees? 

A convenience fee is a surcharge that a business or credit card tacks on to your existing payment. It is used when your method of payment or frequency of payment is not one which is generally used or preferred by that institution. It is also added when you are not present at the time of the transaction, buying over the phone or on the internet.

For example, if you pay your utility bill on-line with a check or credit card, then you will undoubtedly pay a convenience fee. Most people either mail in their payment or have it automatically deducted from their checking account each month. Unless customers are in a time crunch to get the bill paid on time, they don't conduct this transaction over the phone or on-line. Additionally, credit card companies generally charge merchants a fee each time they process a payment.Therefore, the utility company justifies imposing a convenience fee on the user.

What is a surcharge? 

According to Investopedia.com, a surcharge is, "an extra fee, charge, or tax that is added on to the cost of a good or service, beyond the initially quoted price. Often a surcharge is added to an existing tax and is not included in the stated price of the good or service."

These fees can masquerade under a number of different names, depending on the service or item you are purchasing.

Here are some examples: 


  • Ticketmaster is notorious for their fees, often adding $10 to $20 to the price of your ticket purchase!  In addition to the standard "convenience fee" notation, you may see thing like, "facility charge" and "shipping or mailing charge" 
  • If you pay your auto, home, or life insurance more than once a year, you will be adding an "office" or "administration fee" to an already large bill! 
  • Many businesses are beginning to add convenience fees if you ask for paper billing. Our internet company charges you an additional $5 for paper billing and $5.00 for not electing to auto-pay. 
  • Hotels are known to tack a huge variety of convenience fees onto your bill, ranging from line items like: an internet surcharge, extra towels, parking fees, groundskeeping fees, resort fees, and even telephone charges for local calls. 
  • Airlines and airports may charge a "processing fee", "baggage fee" or "parking fee". 
  • Go to an ATM machine not associated directly with your local banking institution and you will pay one or more "transaction" fees. 
  • On-line merchants can legally add "shipping and handling" or "service fees"to your bill.

These charges can vary wildly. Some are a flat fee, while others use a mathematical formula, representing a percentage of your total bill. Sadly, most of the time customers do not carefully examine each line of their bills to check for fees. We assume that we should look at the "amount due" column and simply pay that amount.
You should not! Here's why!

Tips for avoiding or lowering surcharge and convenience fees

1. Change the frequency. 


For items like life, auto, and homeowners insurance, paying yearly will often net you a rebate or rate reduction. Read the fine print. You may need to pay the total on the "amount due" line and then the company will send you a check once your payment clears the bank or they may just allow you to take the appropriate amount off of the total before sending in your payment. If you have any questions, it is best to call for clarification before sending in your payment. 

If you must wait for your rebate, be sure to keep the bill and all appropriate paperwork until you receive their check and it is cashed. Sometimes with large companies, "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing." So, if you call customer service asking about your rebate check, you may get silence or confusion on the other end of the line. If you have all the paperwork handy, you can offer to scan and e-mail it to them or read it directly from the company correspondence. While you are on the phone, do be sure to jot down the operator's name, the date, and any notes which you take during the phone call. 

We just took advantage of an offer just like this last month! We received our annual home and auto insurance bills in the mail and noticed that was an insert announcing a new company policy. If you paid the entire amount, the company would reduce your bill by 5%. Since we were already paying just once a year, we were delighted. We promptly paid and the kept the bill until we received the 5% rebate from the company in the mail. 

2. Ask for the fees to be waived. 

It never hurts to ask. We did and it paid off! When our internet provider explained that they add on an additional $5 monthly charge for sending a paper bill and another $5 if you don't opt for auto bill pay, we very nearly said, "no" to the salesman. Since the total bill is only $50 per month, those charges would have been a 20% surcharge! Recognizing that we were not going to pay $10 extra per month on a $50 bill, he had the charges waived. Yes, we got his offer in writing.

3. Make sure you are asking the correct person. 


When you ask, if the answer they get makes no sense to you, don't be afraid to ask to talk to a supervisor. The answer didn't make any sense to me when Larry got that answer years ago and I didn't follow up on it by making another call myself. That was a mistake that cost me hundreds of dollars over the past few years!

4. Examine your bills closely!

Keep last month's bill to compare it to the one you just received in the mail. Go over it line-by-line so you can easily see if any new fees have been added. Call the company and ask if this is a convenience fee or a surcharge and how long you can expect to see it added to your bill. Some government regulatory agencies like water and sewer companies, will add fees for a short period of time to cover the costs of infrastructure upkeep. It helps to know how long the additional charge will last.

I once found an additional charge on my utility bill. I immediately called and asked about it. Although it turned out that this legitimate charge was a result of a misunderstanding on my part, the company gladly removed the charge from all future bills. 

5. If possible, go in person. 

In the case of tickets, if you are from out of town, but attending with a friend who lives near the concert venue, ask them if they could trek down to the box office or hotel during business hours and purchase the tickets in person. 

With a hotel, if your local contact can go directly to your choice of hotel, you may be able to avoid paying third party fees from places like Hotels.com or Travelocity.com. But, be sure that you double check to be certain you are getting the best deal! Sometimes, even with the third-party convenience fees, going through an alternate provider is cheaper, because they deal in volume and are passing their discount on to you.

Don't forget to check local travel agencies too. It's their business to find you rockin' deals on your next vacation! They often have access to insider information on swanky hotels who really need guests, destination specials, and flights with ultra cheap seats. 

6. Keep a log of all phone calls and e-mails. 


Before you put your money on the line, compare prices! 
  • Talk directly to the merchant in question if you can. 
  • Get the name of the person to whom you are speaking. 
  • Note the date and time that you called. 
  • For hotels and airlines, compare the price of checking in or traveling on a Thursday or Sunday as compared to a Friday or Saturday. Weekends are premium times and more costly than weekdays. 
  • Ask them to e-mail you that amazing quote so you have a written record of the officially offered final price. 

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Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

EATING THE RAINBOW Is Inexpensive and Healthy!




"Eating healthy is impossible on a tight budget!" 


I've heard people repeat this statement as "fact" time and time again. Happily, it is far from the truth. Not only can you serve your family nutritious, nutrient-packed whole foods, you can do it on a very lean budget. 

Shopping and eating from the produce section is never easier than in the summer months when you can visit local farmers markets, cultivate a back yard garden, or glean excess fruits and veggies offered by your green thumb friends and neighbors. 




To help you along your journey, I've created a number of $50 weekly menu plans. These menu plans include dishes that I actually prepare for my family. Each menu plan includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks - all for $50 for 7 days! 



When cooking for my family, I deliberately create a colorful tableau, which includes a wide variety of hues. 


Why is color important when it comes to food?




The Creator designed each edible plant to contain a whole host of vitamins and minerals, insuring that your body receives essential nutrients to help you stay healthy. When you look at your plate, you should see a variety of shapes, colors, and textures. The deep color of fruits and vegetables is a telltale sign that they are powerful at fighting disease and maintaining health. As an added bonus, children will delightedly wolf down food that is displayed on their plate in a fun, attractive, unique, and playful manner. It is absolutely true that we "eat with our eyes".  

Each of the graphics below was created using a backdrop of actual fruits and vegetables from my home. I didn't go out and purchase any additional produce. This is food that I keep in my home and feed to my family. In fact, nearly all of the food was from my weekly CSA box, which is a bushel basket of locally grown, organic produce valued at $25.

Remember, my monthly grocery budget is just $400 for a family of 5 (6 when our oldest is home from college.) So, when I tell you that healthy eating is inexpensive, I live that truth out every single week!

WHITE 





It's hard to boil down all the amazing benefits of the various colors of food into a few words. Often, their properties help you body fight disease on several different levels. Such is the case with white vegetables, especially garlic and onion.

I've researched the health benefits of garlic in the past and, seriously, it seems there is not much that it is not helpful in treating. Not only does it help lower your blood pressure and protect against cancer, it is also antimicrobial. This means that it is effective in fighting bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

The primary constituent of green tea, considered a "white" item for the purposes of this post, is polyphenols. These have been shown to protect against a large number of cancers. Additionally, green tea's antioxidant power weighs in at a full two hundred times more potent than vitamin E and five hundred times than vitamin C.

To take advantage of the medicinal qualities of green tea, consume three cups daily. You can even use matcha green tea and coconut milk to create a healthy, dairy-free, ice cream!

ORANGE




Perhaps your grandmother told you to eat your carrots, because they were good for your eyesight. Turns out, that age-old wisdom was correct. The orange color comes from specialized beta carotenes are called provitamin A carotenoids. As a rule of thumb, the deeper orange the color, the more of this amazing component that produce contains. Beta-carotene is processed by your body, becoming vitamin A, which is a crucial component of good vision.


Providentially, beta carotene is also super at fighting a number of other diseases, like cancer and heart disease. So, follow the advice of your elders and eat a carrot every day.

RED




Lycopene has become a buzz word in recent years, often synonymous with "good health". Until "experts" began to tout the value of lycopene, no one really knew or cared what gave tomatoes their luscious red color. Protection against cancer, particularly prostrate cancer, and heart disease is their main function.

If the acids in red tomatoes upset your stomach, try the milder yellow or even green version. These tomatoes still give a healthy dose of nutrients and, yet, are much lower in acid.

GREEN





Green is the color of spring. It, literally, shouts "Health!" There's a reason the bunnies munch on your tender, green, garden sprouts. They taste amazing and they are sooooo good for your digestion. The fiber allows food to move through your body, keeping your colon clean and protecting against cancer.

Chlorophyll is responsible for the green hues of fruits and vegetables. A plant uses chlorophyll in photosynthesis, producing food for itself and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. In humans, chlorophyll helps detoxify the blood, boost immunity, heal wounds, and prevent cancer.

PURPLE





Eat your berries to get a healthy dose of anthocyanidin! If you've never heard of it, don't feel badly. I hadn't either. It's a flavonoid found in berries. Thankfully, I don't have to be able to pronounce the name to understand the benefits. It's antioxidant properties rival that of two well- known vitamins. It is fifty times more powerful than vitamin C and twenty times more powerful than vitamin E!

Here's another new word for you: proanthocyanidin.  This powerful antioxidant is present in the skin and seeds of deep purple plants, like grapes, bilberries, and cranberries. It helps repair skin damage, giving you a more youthful appearance.

The final antioxidant, in the "purple family", resveratrol, is also one which has been popularized by modern science. The fact that it is present in extremely high concentrations in red grape skins and seeds, gives many license for their one, daily glass of red wine.

YELLOW





When you Google "free radicals", you get a very specific, scientific explanation of this biological phenomenon. Basically, protons and electrons like to travel around in pairs. When something unexpected happens, you lose an electron and wind up with unstable atoms. To replace that missing half, these atoms move around your body, stealing electrons from other sources, causing damage at the cellular level. Effects are wide ranging, contributing to everything from wrinkles to diabetes to heart disease. Needless to say, we want to do everything possible to keep free radicals at bay. 

One way to do this is to consume citrus fruit, which contain an almost magical ingredient: citrus bioflavanoids. This special antioxidant is like a universal blood donor. They can give up an electron, without sustaining any damage and becoming free radicals, themselves. 


Why not just take a supplement? 


Proper nutrition cannot be boiled down to a formula, like: "Eat 5 red, 3 purple, 1 white, and 3 green fruits and vegetables per day."  There are 20,000 varieties of edible plants in the world. That's just too many to come up with a single, pat answer for health. 

I have a serious concern when scientists begin pulling the components of produce out of their natural state and marketing them as a single ingredient supplement. When God created living plants, He made them synergistic. They are meant to function as whole, complete package. This leads me to believe that you cannot possibly swallow a pill and get the same life-giving qualities as simply eating an apple a day. 




FREE DOWNLOADABLE E-BOOK!


Just to thank you for being an Under the Median reader, I created a FREE, downloadable 10 page e-book, filled with all the information from this post. I've provided all my graphics and lines for you to write in your own research or a list of your favorite varieties from each color. 

You can get it absolutely free of charge by clicking on this link. All I ask is that rather than share the link directly with your friends, you send them back to this post to get their download. That way, they can see all the wonderful information, insights, tips, and encouragement that I offer each week on Under the Median. Thanks! 

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Get my FREE 16-page e-book, filled with 21 tips and strategies for lowering your utility bills! Just enter your e-mail address in the "follow by e-mail" link found on the right side of the blog just under my profile. 



Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope


Saturday, August 31, 2019

How We Increased Our Home's Efficiency by 48 Percent!




I recently scheduled an energy audit with my utility company, Ameren Illinois, I was actually inspired to do so because I was preparing for my one-hour, live interview with the Citizens Utility Board.  Since I was disseminating advice on reducing your utility bills, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to schedule an energy audit of my home.

Our family qualified for a free audit and energy assistance through Ameren Illinois' Home Efficiency Program, aimed at helping low and moderate income families increase the energy efficiency of their homes. Here's a look at the chart from the Ameren website.


Number of Persons in HouseholdMaximum Income
1$36,420
2$49,380
3$62,340
4$75,300
5$88,260
6$101,220
7$114,180
The application process was very easy. Our income was verified and within 24 hours and we received an e-mail, stating that we qualified for the program.


*Please note: I received no compensation of any kind for this review, except that which I qualified for through the Ameren Instant Savers Assessment Program. *


The ball got rolling quickly, with a follow-up phone call from Ameren Illinois, my utility company. An energy specialist was slated to arrive at my home within the week.


Our auditor, Travis, arrived promptly at 9am. What a great, informative, helpful guy! He explained the process to me and it quickly became clear why it takes an average of three hours to complete an audit. They are thorough! I mean, this is far more extensive than any inspection I have been through to buy or sell a home!


We immediately discover three problems!

A bright yellow handheld device with a thin, flexible metal rod protruding from the top was slowly waved over the surface of all items, which used natural gas. This combustible gas detector emitted a beep, which increased in intensity and volume in the presence of natural gas in the surrounding air. The reading it takes, known as the L.E.L. - Lower Explosive Limit, is actually able to detect finite levels of gas leakage. Apparently around 50 percent of homes which are tested have some amount of gas leaking, yet the homeowners know nothing about it.



Checking for gas leaks

We turned out to be one of the 50% - twice over! There was a leak right where you see the snakelike projection in the photo. In a scary turn of events, the beeping machine also found that the gas shut off valve for our dryer was leaking.

In a final blow, Travis noticed that the hot water heater exhaust pipe had been improperly installed.


Improperly fitted water heater exhaust pipe

That crimped edge in the center of the photo shouldn't be showing. That portion of the extension should fit securely up against the receptacle at the top of the ceiling.

The problem is that improper alignment can allow the gravity-fed exhaust from the water heater to escape into the room, creating a build up of carbon monoxide. This was not something to be ignored.

The gas was turned off at the street as we awaited a rescue team to arrive to fix all three problems. First, an Ameren journeyman replaced the leaky valve in the front of the house with lightening quick speed. Then, the inspection was put on "hold" for an additional 60 minutes, while a local contractor came out to repair both the leak in the dryer line and the hot water heater exhaust pipe.


Air flow is tested with a puff of smoke


The shiny, new water heater exhaust pipe was tested for backdrafting with a puff of artificial smoke.
Everything was now in proper working order!

All problem areas rectified, we were back on track and once again testing my home's energy efficiency.


More common problems unearthed

I learned a lot as the process turned up more areas of concern. Travis was incredibly gracious and kept up a nice stream of conversation, orally downloading facts, figures, and information as I plied him with questions.

Clogged Central Air Cage



Clogged central air conditioner cage


The vents for our central air were completely clogged. Apparently, you can direct a spray of water from a hose through them and easily clean out the organic material - on in our case, mostly seeds from local, prolific, cottonwood trees.

The big problem with this condition is that the coating of grime causes additional load on the AC unit. The motor must work harder to move air, shortening the length of its life and raising our utility bills.

To fix the situation, we would need to direct a gentle stream of water between the top and side of the unit, spraying outward to remove the debris and clean out the dust, dirt, and debris. This, same procedure should be followed every spring, before turning on the central air unit.


Dirty dryer vent exhaust 


Lint collected at the exit of the dryer vent


Most homeowners, me included, don't think to periodically examine the state of their dryer exhaust. We should! Dryer vent fires are quite common, but the possibility can be drastically diminished when the entire vent is vacuumed out once or twice year.


The Building Flow Leakage Test!

The Blower Door 


The final part of the inspection was something called a building flow leakage test. My front door was covered by a bright, red canopy with a large fan in the bottom, center quadrant.

As I gazed at the contraption, my mind raced back to the hazmat scene from the 1980's movie, "ET". This really did look eerily similar.


Measuring air pressure and flow

I watched, as numbers on this electronic continued to climb, telling the tale of just exactly how quickly air was flowing through my house, even with every door and window closed!

Our blower door test revealed a final number of 11.0 ACH50. The average home measures about a 10 ACH 50. However, one must compare this number with that of new construction: a 4.0 ACH 50.

So, what did all these figures mean to me, the homeowner? Travis quickly broke it down to layman's terms. It was significant that my score was10, because any level between 10 and 15 actually represents a fairly significant leakage problem. Main, but not surprising, problem points were areas which provide a natural bridge between the outdoor and indoor air.



Our main problem areas included:  


Our whole house fan - a major area for leaking air


  • My centralized, whole-house fan
  • My bathroom exhaust fan
  • Our jalousie-windowed back door
  • The top plates of our interior walls, where they met the roofline

We got new thermostat, smart power strips, and more!


Nest Programmable Smart Thermostat



Before leaving, Travis installed a number of power-saving devices in my home for free! It's all a part of Ameren's Instant Savers Assessment Program! These included: 

  • Two smart power strips (to help reduce vampire power)
  • New low-flow faucet aerators (To reduce water use and reduce strain on the water heater)
  • New LED lightbulbs (To reduce energy usage)

New, low-flow, faucet aerators replaced this old, bulky unit.

As the process concluded, Travis, once again reviewed the problem areas in the house and ensured that I now understood how gaps were allowing a continuous exchange of air from indoors to outdoors. My house was far leakier than I had ever anticipated! He left, assuring me that everything could be fixed.

We did, however, have a small financial commitment to make to the process. As homeowners, we had three minor problems, which would need to be brought up to code before project completion. The repairs would cost us less than $300.

In the meantime, a second, and even more thorough examination, would be performed by Todd Abercrombie of EverGreen Home Energy Consultants. Todd would then provide us a with a list of detailed, prioritized, actionable steps and connect us with one of Ameren's trusted, locally-owned program allies.


The next step in the process

Once again, I didn't have to wait long. I received a call from Todd within a week. Arriving at the agreed upon hour, he, first, repeated Travis' initial tests, to ensure that the calculations were correct.

They were.

There was a clear flow of heat from the centralized whole house fan


In addition to verifying the original energy loss numbers, a thermal imaging camera was used, to aid in defining the exact amount of heat loss, The device was aimed at doors, windows, near the ceiling, at the roofline, through the whole house fan, and, finally, up the bathroom exhaust.


Heat escaping where the top plates meet the downward sloping roofline. 


This was pretty cool technology! I was able to physically see heat radiating through unseen holes in my home.

Todd explained that even brand new constructions contain some air flow. Although the numbers looked pretty high to me, Todd said that he had seen worse and reiterated Travis' assertion that just a few upgrades could provide me with a significant reduction in heat or cooling loss. 


The next week I received an extensive, final, detailed report with a prioritized list of both necessary and suggested projects. Todd also recommended and connected us with Central Illinois Insulation, an Ameren energy program ally. 



What our certified Ameren trusted partner did for us

The crew from Central Illinois Insulation were absolutely remarkable! Being in an attic on a blazing Central Illinois summer day brings about visions worthy of inclusion in Dante's famous Inferno. But, they labored tirelessly and cheerfully, putting forth their best effort in less than ideal working conditions. 


Replacing the Bathroom Exhaust Fan


A new Panasonic energy efficient bathroom fan


The new Panasonic Whisper Green Bath Exhaust Fan is vented properly and "hums", rather than rattles when in use. It keeps moisture at bay even when a teenage boy is standing under running water in the shower, singing through multiple verses of his favorite songs. I was very impressed with how effectively the new fan wicked steam from the room.


Sealing the Backdoor

A plexiglass  panel on the inside, seals leaks from the jalousie window.

This was a little tricky. We really didn't want a replacement door. I like being able to look from the backdoor into the garage. But, the original jalousie windows were like a leaky sieve. Tim Wagenbach, owner of Central Illinois Insulation, took on this task personally. He found a piece of plexiglass and had it cut to the perfect size. Then, he custom fitted it over the top of the existing window frame. It was the perfect solution!

Sealing cracks in the attic and adding insulation

New insulation helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

Previous to the improvements, my attic only contained maybe six inches of very old, squished insulation. It's no wonder the attic and roof were the main sources of heating and cooling loss for my home! They were the spaces, which allowed for the greatest degree of conductivity between the interior and exterior spaces.

Sealing, in the form of foam, caulk, or solid materials were applied to areas like the chimney base, top plates, wiring penetrations, plumbing penetrations, the kitchen soffit, and the whole house fan.

We had one additional request for the attic project, a plywood walkway so that the whole house fan could easily be reached for yearly maintenance. We opted to pay out-of-pocket to have the workmen to do this for us.

After that, insulation was blown in to a factor of R-49.



Adding a whole house fan cover

The new fan cover fits tight against the ceiling, but is easy to remove to put the fan into use. 


The final area of concern was our whole house fan. Unlike many people, we actually use our whole house fan, especially in the spring and fall, when nighttime temperatures drop and the humidity is also low. So, plugging it up permanently was not an option.

Instead, an insulated, magnetized specialty cover proved to be the perfect solution. The interior of the cover is insulated, providing an additional R-factor. Yet, the durable cover is also easy enough for my older boys to grab the magnetized corner to remove it when we are planning to use the fan.

The cost of the project 



The cost of these home improvements was nearly $4000 and was completely covered by Ameren's Energy Efficiency Home Audit program! Our only out-of-pocket cost was that of paying to have three minor items replaced and brought up to code and the cost of laying the plywood flooring in the attic. It was less than $500. 


Final report 


The final report showed an amazing 48% increase in air efficiency! 


While our initial blower door test CFM level had been 11.0, the post-improvement test revealed a new number of 5.8! New construction is built to a code of 4.0. That means our home's level of air efficiency is now very close to that of a new build!  The results were even better than Ameren's initial projections! Everyone was well-pleased, deeming the project a rousing success!

Does this mean my utility bills will drop by half? 


No. It's a measure of the reduction of the overall air leakage of my home. It is one of the metrics used to determine how air moves through a structure, which affects its ability to effectively and efficiently heat and cool. 

Have I noticed a difference?

Yes, I have! 

  • Our central air, which seemed to be running constantly, is now taking long "breathers" before turning on, rather than continuously cycling. This is happening even though the weather has remained hot and sticky. 
  • I can stand in the hallway and no longer feel the heat of the attic radiating through the closed whole house fan. 
  • Although we've not had a full bill cycle since the improvements, we did just receive our August utility bill, which was under $200, a record low for us in the midst of hot summer heat and humidity! 

Do I recommend the program?


Absolutely! If you live in Ameren Illinois' service area, check the on-line chart to see if you qualify for the program. Every single person involved in the process was incredibly polite, giving their time and knowledge and treating us with the utmost respect.

Special thanks to: 


  • Suzanne at the Ameren home office, who answered my initial phone call and processed our application with lightening fast speed. 
  • Todd Abercrombie, owner of EverGreen Home Energy Consultants, who did a thorough, top-notch job, coming up with such a detailed, thoroughly thought through action plan
  • Tim Wagenbach, owner of Central Illinois Insulation and his amazing crew, who worked for hours without complaint in my sweltering hot attic to install the new insulation and complete the rest of the project upgrades. 
  • Ameren Illinois, who offer great service to the customers in their service area. 

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Do all to the glory of God, 

Hope