Free DIY Energy-Saving Kits Help People Save on Energy Costs


It’s not every day Wilma Jeffery receives a box of intriguing and useful gadgets. A faucet aerator to conserve water. LED lightbulbs. Foam insulators for electrical outlets.  A little turquoise plastic wheel that whistles when your furnace filter needs to be changed.

“I didn’t know anything like that was even out there,” Jeffery said.

The retired bookkeeper from Estill Springs, Tennessee, already had her own system for keeping track of furnace filters.

When she installs a new one, she writes the date on it in black Sharpie.

“I just kind of watch it and check it,” Jeffery said. “If I see too much dust on there, I change it out.”

The whistle, she had to admit, seemed more precise.

“If it started making a noise, I’d realize maybe I waited too long,” she said. “I’m going to put that little thing on there.”

That’s music to Brad Wagner’s ears, because heating and air conditioning systems run more efficiently and last longer with regular filter changes.

Wagner, manager of program operations for TVA EnergyRight, is heading up an effort to help a record number of households save money on their electric bills by learning to improve energy efficiency through TVA’s DIY Home Energy Assessment.

Everyone who participates gets a $10 home improvement gift card, plus a kit of gadgets like Jeffery’s.

“These are ways they can start saving money instantly,” Wagner said.

Brad Wagner clips a whistle to a furnace filter

Brad Wagner, manager of program operations at TVA EnergyRight, clips a whistle to a furnace filter. The whistle emits a sound when it’s 80% clogged, indicating the filter needs to be changed.

Savings – and Safety

Leslie Scott, of Albertville, Alabama, quickly made use of the items in her free kit, including the sink aerator and set of 20 foam gaskets for light switches and electric outlets.

One of her favorites is the gauge to test water temperature.

Her reading was higher than the recommended 120 to 130 degrees. So Scott asked her son-in-law to turn down her hot water heater.

“I was worried about my grandchildren getting burned,” Scott, a mental health specialist in the Head Start program at Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, said.

With frequent visits from Cannon, 3, and Carter, 16 months, Scott didn’t want to risk an injury.

“They can get into stuff so fast,” she said.

Everyone has motivations for becoming more energy efficient, Wagner said. The new TVA EnergyRight campaign aims to put helpful tools and information into people’s hands.

A lot of people’s hands.

“We’re going hard on this program,” he said. “We’re trying to break our old records in kits.”

Since 2015, TVA EnergyRight has distributed more than 53,000 free energy-saving kits. The highest numbers were in 2016 and 2017, when TVA EnergyRight sent out kits to more than 11,000 households each year.

“We would love to hit 20,000 this year,” Wagner said.

Hot water gauge in the DIY Home Energy Assessment kit measures temperature at the faucet

This hot water gauge in the DIY Home Energy Assessment kit measures the temperature at the faucet. If the readout is higher than 120 to 130 degrees, the temperature on the hot water heater can be lowered to save money and prevent injuries.

‘Full of Surprises’

Some items in the free kit are ordinary.

There’s a pair of LED lightbulbs, which use far less energy than their incandescent or fluorescent cousins.

Sandy Hardcastle and her husband were happy to receive the lightbulbs.

As for their thermostat?

“We keep ours low,” Hardcastle, a retired Florence, Alabama, schoolteacher said. She sets it at 67 degrees during the day and a few degrees lower at night. “When it’s cold we just put another layer of sweatshirt on.

“We’re pretty frugal with everything in the house as far as water and electricity,” she said. “With everybody’s budget these days, every little bit helps.”

And an unexpected windfall of any amount is always nice.

“I don’t think I knew I was getting a $10 gift card,” she said. “The little box was just full of surprises.”

Melissa Martin, a TVA EnergyRight program manager, installs an LED bulb

Melissa Martin, a TVA EnergyRight program manager, installs an LED bulb that uses less energy and lasts longer than compact fluorescent or incandescent bulbs.

‘Definitely Do It’

To receive a free kit, homeowners fill out TVA EnergyRight’s online DIY Home Energy Assessment.

Renters can participate, too.

For most people, it only takes 10-15 minutes. A colorful graphic prompts you to answer questions about your home and appliances. You then get an email identifying your biggest opportunities to save energy and money.

Bill Burtch, of Memphis, recently completed his assessment.

His advice?

“Definitely do it,” Burtch said. “It will grow your awareness around where your money’s going. You’ve got to be aware before you can do anything about it.”

An executive coach with a home office, Burtch is always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of his 99-year-old house.

“It helps you prioritize, ‘What do I do first?'” Burtch said. “What’s going to give you the biggest bang for your buck?”

His other tip: Take advantage of the rebates TVA offers for efficiency upgrades on HVAC and insulation, as well as window replacements.

“If someone’s going to give you free money to help increase the value of your home, take it,” Burtch said. “Especially if you have an older home like I do. Knowing you’ve done a lot of stuff to bring it up to current standards makes it a lot more valuable to people – and sellable.”

Brad Wagner adding foam gaskets around outlets and light switches

Adding foam gaskets around outlets and light switches prevents drafts and saves energy.

Win-Win Solutions

Homeowners can repeat the DIY Home Energy Assessment every two years.

The assessment and free kit can be combined with TVA’s other residential energy efficiency programs. These include the rebates Burtch recommends, as well as in-person or virtual home energy evaluations,  low-cost financing and the Home Uplift grant program for people who qualify based on income.

The beauty of these programs is they’re win-win solutions, Wagner said.

For homeowners, they translate into money in the bank, plus the satisfaction of doing something good for the environment. The 20,000 kits TVA EnergyRight wants to distribute this year are the conservation equivalent of planting more than 582,000 trees and letting them grow for a decade.

For TVA, the home efficiency programs ease strain on the grid during peak demand times and reduce pressure to build new power plants, Wagner said.

“Every gigawatt-hour we take off the grid is one that doesn’t have to be generated,” Wagner said. “The more energy efficient the homes are across the Valley region, the less generation TVA needs – and the closer we are to our carbon reduction goals.”

Brad Wagner showing the Faucet aerators

Faucet aerators like these screw into the kitchen or bathroom tap to save water.

Brad shows how the two halves of this plastic whistle snap together

The two halves of this plastic whistle snap together from the front and back of a furnace filter. The whistle can be removed from an old filter and reattached to a new one.

Melissa Martin showing the insulating gaskets

These insulating gaskets are designed for light switches and power outlets along the exterior walls.