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Irwin energy audit shows opportunities to save

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Irwin Council plans to look into ways to improve the borough's three buildings to become more energy efficient.

The borough hired energy auditor Rhett Major, of the Energy Doctor in Irwin, to conduct a study of the borough facilities.

Council paid Major $3,000 to conduct the energy audit, which took him several months to complete, according to manager Mary Benko. He examined the borough's public works building, borough offices and the Irwin Volunteer Fire Department.

“There were a number of problems, such as drafts, and a couple of other projects,” Major said. “Energy audits don't save money — they just identify problems and the money council spent (on the audit) will be wasted if you do nothing.”

Major identified the borough building's boiler heating system as one of its largest inefficiencies. It does not have a control panel to automatically regulate heat. Instead, it has an on switch, and remains on all winter, Major said.

Most boiler systems have controls and sensors in place to turn them on and off automatically, depending on the temperature, Major said.

The boiler system, which is about 50 years old, is about 80-percent energy efficient, compared to newer systems, which are 90- to 95-percent efficient, Major said.

Council President John Cassandro said officials budgeted $70,000 to replace the building's boiler system.

Benko said she is unsure how much it costs to operate the current boiler system, since it uses a combination of gas and electricity, but described it as “a large expense.”

The public works building's roof needs replaced this year, and Major suggested installing a layer of insulation to help keep heat in the building.

Council plans to replace the building's steel roof this year, and budgeted $10,000.

Major said the biggest inefficiencies in the fire department come from its back wall, which is sliding down a hill. He said the shifting of the building allows heat to leak out.

A portion of the building, which sits behind Dan Rose Park on Western Avenue, hangs over a steep ravine and is supported by steel beams and piers, which were added to the building in the late 1930s.

In September, engineer Lucien Bove and public works director Jim Halfhill inspected the building, and began developing plans on how to stabilize it, but have not discussed the plans publicly.

“If you don't fix the back of that fire house, it will fall down,” Major said. “I don't care how much air sealing or installing installation anyone does, if the back wall falls down. The borough is in a pickle.”

Major said borough officials must address how long they plan to keep the buildings before deciding to make any major updates.

“The more the borough can make long-term plans, and bite off projects bit-by-bit, then it really becomes an investment to achieve lower future costs,” Major said.

Halfhill and Bove plan to review Major's reports and develop plans to address the borough's energy inefficiencies.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or

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