Stefanie Pruegel: Local Hero

Turning New House into Dream Home

Apartment dweller Stefanie Pruegel dreamed of a big backyard. Now that she’s a homeowner in Oakland, California, this Energy Hero is turning her dream into a reality.

Why did you get a home energy assessment?

I’ve always felt strongly about treading as lightly as possible in terms of water and energy consumption. I recently moved from an apartment into a small house with a big yard because I’ve developed a passion for gardening and the idea of creating a backyard wildlife refuge. So of course, one of the first things I wanted to do was to see how much energy the house was using and how much more efficient and eco-friendly it could get.

What did you discover about your home?

The biggies from the assessment report were the recommendations for air sealing, weather stripping and insulation to make the place more comfortable and to save on energy. Measuring the air leaks was especially fascinating. They put some kind of suction device with a powerful fan into the front doorframe—it basically sucks air out of the house to see how much air comes in through the cracks—and it was almost double what it should be. That didn’t surprise me; I had noticed how drafty it was.

“It’s really interesting to look at energy not just in terms of gas and fuel or how we heat our homes, but how much energy is embedded in the products and food we buy.”

How did you make your home more efficient?

I hired a company to seal any cracks and put weather stripping around the windows and doorframes to stop the air leaks. When I first heard “weather stripping,” I thought, “Wow! This must be like major engineering.” But it basically means sticking strips of insulating foam around the doorframe—really not rocket science, and I could have done it myself. I also had insulation put in the attic, into the walls and under the floor. I got a new washing machine that is more energy efficient, uses less water and is easier on fabrics. Most of the lights in the house are LEDs.

Has your passion for saving energy extended beyond the home?

It’s really interesting to look at energy not just in terms of gas and fuel or how we heat our homes, but how much energy is embedded in the products and food we buy. Anything you buy was hauled from somewhere using fuel or was made with petroleum or required heat. I believe that being selective about what you buy is a form of energy efficiency. For example, I buy as much food as possible locally at farmers markets instead of stuff that’s shipped in.

So, how’s the “wildlife refuge,” AKA your yard, coming along?

It’s going great and has really come a long way. When I got the house, the huge yard was covered in weeds and grass. I used a practice called sheet mulching to get rid of the weeds and grass and replaced them with drought-tolerant, mostly native plants. I also have some fruit trees. Another thing I did was install a rainwater collection tank. It’s pretty neat to be able to water the plants and not turn on the tap. Since putting in the native plants, I’ve seen much more diversity in the birds that come to the yard—it’s a nice reward for doing all this work.