A massive drilling rig has filled the front yard of the Quenga home in Fort Smith. Trucks line the driveway. As the noisy rig digs 200 feet below the ground’s surface, windows are being removed from the home, workers have sprayed insulation in the attic, and appliances have been moved from their positions into the middle of the kitchen.
But the temporary state of chaos at her home is not at all bothersome for Alisha Quenga.
"I’m excited," said Quenga, whose family was named the winners of the sixth annual Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas $50,000 Energy Efficiency Makeover. "They’re welcome here as long as they need to be."
Team members from the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas are in their second week of the makeover, which the Quenga’s won after submitting an application as members of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative.
"I knew we had some issues with the house," Quenga explained of the 1,500-square-foot home she shares with her husband, Kyle, 13-year-old son, Lucas, 7-year-old daughter, Lauryn, and her mother-in-law and father-in-law. "The comfortableness of the home was not what it should have been. You can tell that when the (air- conditioning) unit was running constantly."
When electric bills were averaging $250 to $300 each month — and soaring up to $400 during the hot summer months — the Quengas were certain the 1979 home they had lived in since 2004 was not as efficient as it could be.
"The inefficiencies show up in your electric bill," Quenga explained. "We knew that ours were quite higher than it should be for the size of home we had. It just wasn’t adding up to me."
After ECA conducted an energy audit of the Quenga home when the family was named a finalist, ECA energy-efficiency experts pinpointed the major causes for the Quenga’s high usage level and extremely uncomfortable home.
"As finalists, we go out and do a comprehensive energy audit, which tells us a lot of things about the home," said Greg Davis, a spokesman for the area’s Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative.
Bret Curry, manager of residential marketing for the ECA in Little Rock, said the audit revealed that more than 70 percent of the air volume within the Quenga home was leaking to the outside every minute of each day.
"We also discovered substandard insulation levels, inefficient windows, dramatic ductwork leakage, an older inefficient heating and cooling system and non-Energy Star appliances," Curry said. "Combine all of these circumstances, and you have a very uncomfortable home with very high utility bills.
"The good news is our makeover project is a wonderful medium for teaching Arkansans how they can resolve their energy problems, improve the comfort of their homes and lower their utility costs," Curry added.
Davis said the Quenga home is like many in the area.
"The good part of this is, the home is fixable," he said. "This isn’t a bad house. It’s an opportunity for us to go to a home where we can make a big difference in what’s going on."
That difference for the Quengas is an ultra-efficient Water Furnace geothermal heat pump, high-efficiency windows, a GeoSpring Hybrid water heater, General Electric Energy Star appliances and foam insulation in the attic and crawlspace.
Makeover team members were busy installing the new replacement windows, which had been delivered earlier that day by Harry G. Barr Co., and reworking cabinets to accommodate the new, larger appliances, which would use less energy daily than the smaller, older ones. Follow the progress on the Quenga home at www.ECAHomeMakeover.com or the Facebook page, ECA Home Makeover.
While the Quengas are grateful to ECA for the expensive makeover to make their home more comfortable and more energy-efficient, they hope other homeowners will take advantage of the small, affordable changes that can be made to make a difference in their own homes.
"Caulking and sealing is the biggest bang for your buck with what it can do for your energy bill," said Davis, noting that sealing areas where heat and air escape or infiltrate the house can help tighten utility bills.
Davis and Curry suggested homeowners replace incandescent bulbs with the compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, which save energy and do not emit heat back into the house like the traditional incandescent bulbs.
The pair also suggested turning off lights in rooms that are not in use and changing the air filter in the cooling unit to make it run more efficiently. Even how trees and shrubs are planted around the home can contribute to its energy efficiency.
"During the summer, keep the shades closed, which keeps the sun out," said Davis, noting that AVEC conducts free energy audits for its members. More tips can be found at www.ecark.org/energy-efficiency. "In the winter, do the opposite.
"We know not everybody can afford a $50,000 makeover," Curry said. "But we can teach energy components and help our members save energy, save money and live comfortably."
Russell and Debbie Welch, members of Rich Mountain Electric Cooperative in Mena, were among 16 runners-up in the makeover contest receiving a 50-gallon GE Hybrid water heater.