Energy Adviser: Trailer takes sustainability on the road

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In the Planet Clark trailer, you can rap your knuckles on countertops made of paper, inspect a heat-recovery ventilator and ask questions about green building standards.

You have several opportunities in the next few months to explore the 20-foot trailer, which is bursting with information about environmental sustainability.

It will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 23 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 24 at the Recycled Arts Festival in Esther Short Park, on Eighth Street between Columbia and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver.

It will be open July 4 at the Felida Fourth of July Children's Parade and Celebration in Felida Park off Northwest 36th Avenue and 122nd Street.

And from Aug. 3-12, it will be stationed at the Clark County Fair, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road.

The trailer is operated by Planet Clark, a partnership among three departments within Clark County government to educate people about such topics as building permits, stormwater rules and energy efficiency. Clark Public Utilities was among 20 sponsors that helped create the trailer, which first hit the road in April 2011. Since then, about 5,400 people have toured it.

Planet Clark staff members came up with the idea for the trailer full of exhibits after spending a year sitting in booths at home shows.

"We were handing out pens and brochures and being very boring," said Mike Selig, the county's energy-efficiency services coordinator. "So we bought the trailer. We felt it would be really effective to get into the community and have hands-on activities."

Recent additions

The county bought the trailer for $10,000, and sponsors contributed an estimated $25,000 in labor and materials, Selig said.

Selig is excited about several recent additions to the trailer. One new display is the Daikin Altherma, a domestic heating and hot water system that delivers between 3 and 5 kilowatt hours of usable heat for every 1 kilowatt it uses. Another new addition is the LifeBreath Heat Recovery Ventilating system, which pumps fresh air into the home and stale air out, all while retaining 80 percent of the heat from the indoor air.

But perhaps the most important thing you'll find in the trailer is the staff, ready to answer your questions.

Some of the most frequent questions visitors pose are about the sustainable building materials on display, including Marmoleum and cork flooring.

"When visitors find something they like, they want to know, 'How much does it cost?' and 'Where can I find it?' We have the contact information," Selig said.

Visitors also ask why compact fluorescent lights sometimes don't last as long as promised. Selig and other staff members explain that CFLs are best used in light fixtures that aren't turned on and off frequently. Main areas of the home that stay lit for long periods are good fits for CFLs, versus bathrooms where use is more sporadic.

"CFLs do work and save energy, but there are places where they won't work optimally," Selig said.

While some conditions can cause CFLs to burn out more quickly, they still use less energy than traditional bulbs and Clark Public Utilities customers can exchange old CFL bulbs for new ones at any utility customer service location.

Ductless heat pump

The trailer's ductless heat pump also draws a lot of questions. It's an energy-efficient replacement for baseboard, wall or ceiling heat that also provides cooling. Clark Public Utilities offers a $1,500 rebate for electric heat customers who upgrade to a ductless heat pump.

People whose homes are equipped with furnaces often ask why it seems one part of the house never gets warm. The trailer's staff will connect them with Clark County's free duct and home performance inspection program.

"We have found houses with disconnected ducts that wasted heat in crawl spaces for years," Selig said. "Duct work is not only important for energy efficiency, but also for indoor air quality and the health of your family."

If you can't visit the trailer at an upcoming event, you can find links to information about green products, sustainable building and other services at http://www.planetclark.com. And if you'd like the Planet Clark trailer to come to your community event, contact Mike Selig at 360-937-2375, ext. 4540, or mike.selig@clark.wa.gov.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.