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Freephone Service Answers Home Energy Questions

Cold temperatures this winter and the recent announcement by the Government of subsidies for insulation and heating have put home energy issues on the agenda for many households. This has seen a surge in calls to Home Energy Advice Centres (HEACs) around the country. The HEAC was launched as a pilot scheme in Wellington in March 2007 with funding from the Ministry for the Environment to provide free, impartial, expert advice to homeowners and tenants about their energy use. The not-for-profit service is run by the Energy Efficiency Community Network (EECN) and has no commercial affiliations.

EECN developed the concept based on an experienced need for independent, locally relevant, and personalised energy efficiency advice. Although New Zealand has a wide variety of information and advice services, there was a gap in advice provision without commercial imperatives. The HEAC model is based on the successful UK model of Energy Efficiency Advice Centres run by the Energy Saving Trust. The Wellington centre has recently been joined by services in Auckland and Canterbury which can all be reached on the same Freephone number (0800 388 588).

Advisors can help with questions about heating, insulation, ventilation, power bills and subsidies among other things. “People call about a real range of things” says Sarah Free from the Wellington HEAC, “from big investment decisions about heating systems or simple behavioural changes people can make to reduce internal moisture levels”. In one case it was a matter of helping a family work out by a process of elimination what was causing their hefty power bills so they could manage their home differently. “We spent the first evening with one person watching the wheel on the meter box while the other turned appliances on & off (at the wall) to see what sped it up/slowed it down” says Alina Pescini of Upper Hutt. “Sarah at the Energy Advice Centre was very good. She was very empathetic (which was appreciated - we'd got a huge bill and were in shock!), and offered some very useful advice”.

The centre has also been involved in community outreach activities such as public information workshops and providing information at public events. It has recently held a curtain-making workshop for local university students to make detachable thermal curtain liners. The liners can be attached to existing curtains which boosts their thermal value and slows heat loss. This makes the house warmer and reduces power bills because the heat stays inside longer. The workshop took place with the support of Lewis’s Fabric who supplied the curtain-making materials. “The great thing about detachable liners is you can take them with you when you move, so no matter where you live you get the benefit”, said Sarah.

Advice is predominantly given over the phone but can also be via email or submitted via the website. The website www.energyadvice.org.nz has details of the hours of service for the three difference offices and further information. You can call the nearest HEAC on 0800 388 588.

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