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Partnership with Local Utility to Provide Home Energy Evaluation Kits

Jacksonville Public Library
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Innovation Summary

To help residents save money on utility bills while helping the environment, the Jacksonville Public Library partnered with the local utility company to circulate Home Energy Evaluation Kits -- backpacks filled with tools to test the energy efficiency of homes. Over 1,300 kits were loaned in the first year.

Innovation Leader: Luis Flores, Assistant Director, Facilities Management & Planning, lflores@coj.net

Problem Statement

FACT: Americans are 5% of the world's population yet use over 33% of its energy. FACT: The average home spends over $1,600/year on energy; an energy efficient home spends about $1,000/year; $600 savings. With a challenging economy and rising energy costs, Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) customers were looking for ways to save money; our local utility, the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA), was looking for ways to help people save energy; and the library was looking for ways to educate the public about sustainability and “green” practices. Most customers know they want and need to save money on electricity, water, and other energy sources, but don’t really know how to go about determining if they really have a problem. JEA offers home energy audits that involve a JEA technician visiting the home to make an assessment. These require making an appointment, waiting at home for JEA to arrive and then taking the actual assessment. While a valuable service, it can be time-intensive. Working residents found it challenging to make and keep appointments, while some customers did not even know the service was available or thought there was a fee. So when Sara Boren, Executive Director of the Green Team Project (www.greenteamproject.org), in partnership with JEA, approached Luis Flores, Assistant Director, Facilities Management & Planning, with the idea of a do-it-yourself Home Energy Evaluation Kit that could be checked out at the public library, JPL immediately saw the perfect opportunity to meet our customers’ needs in an innovative way while positioning the library in the community as a resource for learning how to save money and help preserve the environment.

Innovation

Luis Flores and members of the Green Team Project (GTP), a non-profit organization whose focus is to empower and motivate people to make a difference environmentally through their own practices, engaged partner JEA to develop and implement a concept to help residents identify ways to save money on their ever-rising utility bills while mitigating negative effects on the environment. Home Energy Evaluation Kits (HEEKs) filled that objective perfectly. The project began with a pilot at the Main Library and three branch locations in November 2010. Each location received four JEA kits -- backpacks containing tools to test the energy efficiency of a home, an instruction manual written by JEA , a CD with fact sheets on energy “best practices,” and a resource book -- Consumer Reports complete Guide to Reducing Energy Costs. The tools include an infrared thermometer, kilowatt meter, hygro-thermometer, calculator, tape measure, ruler and flow meter bags. The kits themselves are “green”; each backpack is made from reclaimed billboard vinyl. The kits and contents are valued at $275 and are funded by JEA. Backpacks may be checked out for 21 days with no holds and no renewals. To promote the kits, JEA included inserts in 340,000 utility bills mailed in January 2011 with information on workshops held at our pilot locations. The library issued press releases and conducted media interviews about the new service. We also utilized social media, in-library signage and fliers, a web page and a suggested reading list linked to our catalog. JEA experts conducted hands-on classes for the public at the four pilot branches in February 2011. In March 2012, pre-stamped, pre-addressed customer satisfaction survey postcards were added to the kits to quantify the actions of kit users and collect testimonials.

Progress

Based on the successful results of the pilot (November – February), the program was expanded in March 2011 to include all 21 JPL locations. Inventory was increased to six backpacks per location for a total of 126 circulating kits. The response to the Home Energy Evaluation Kits has been overwhelmingly positive. Since their introduction in early 2011 backpacks are continually in circulation. Through March 2012, library customers have checked out the kits 1,373 times. More than 100 residents attended the workshops. Staff have embraced the project. Articles ran in four local news publications and on local TV. A mention in American Libraries Direct resulted in several calls for assistance from other libraries in setting up a similar program. The JEA Home Energy Evaluation Kit Backpacks are an innovative way to empower customers with the tools they need to assess their own energy situation. Using their library cards to check-out a kit to perform a “do-it-yourself” energy audit is something that had not been attempted before in our community. JEA has been so pleased with the community response they plan to expand it to include water use evaluation kits. This program has received external recongition, as well. It was featured in a January 2011 article by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, International Library and Information Group in their "Focus on International Library and Information Work" publication, and was awarded the 2011 Northeast Florida Library Information Network (NEFLIN) Innovation Award. Most recently the project was chosen to receive the 2012 Florida Library Association Library Innovation Award. We are so pleased with the community response to this unique library service and welcome other libraries who wish to provide a similar service to contact JPL.