Secrets of a Tribal Energy Auditor

March 21, 2012

On a tiny, rural reservation 10 miles east of Newport, Oregon, Fawn Metcalf gets to work. Adorned in pink overalls and polka-dotted work boots, Metcalf prepares to crawl under the home of a family in Siletz.

Metcalf is focused on her goal of helping modest-income families save money and stay healthy and dry. "It's gratifying to know that you are making a big difference in people’s lives," says Metcalf.

With a facemask in place, she tests for airflow leaks in every nook and cranny using a variety of machines and devices. Sometimes she finds other structural problems that can jeopardize the homeowners' physical and financial wellbeing.

Oregon's wet winters create a lush landscape, but that moisture can also create unhealthy conditions inside homes. "Our biggest problem is mold," said Metcalf.

Just ask resident Laura Bremner and her family of eight.

"We were sick from October, when it started raining, all the way through ‘til April or June," said Bremner, who moved into the brand new four-bedroom modular home in 2000. At one point, Bremner's 8-year-old daughter was forced to move because of a bacterial lung infection that kept her on oxygen.

After Metcalf audited Bremner’s house, the Siletz Tribal Energy Program installed an Energy Smart furnace, a dehumidifier, and a whole-house ventilation system. Some drywall was also replaced. Within a few months, the dangerous black mold disappeared. For the first time in more than 10 years, the Bremner family finally stopped getting sick. That was nine months ago.

Metcalf was trained and certified with funding provided by the Bonneville Power Administration's Low-Income Energy Efficiency program, the Administration for Native Americans, and the DOE. This BPA energy efficiency program gives funds directly to the state or tribal service provider rather than to a local utility. The annual budget includes $500,000 that goes directly to the tribes. Read the complete story and see the accompanying video on the DOE Energy Blog.