Meet a real-life Energy Advisor: Ron Laux takes us for a spin

Energy Advisor Ron Laux at Jay County REMC in Portland, IN, is quick to give credit to his influences, from an aunt whose positive outlook made a tremendous impact on him to Dr. Bill Hill, a professor at Ball State University who taught him a great deal about energy efficiency.

How’d you become an Energy Advisor?
In 1994 we had a vacancy and I’ve always been interested in this type of thing. I eat and sleep this stuff. My interest in energy, energy efficiency, and heating and cooling goes back to high school.

What do you enjoy most about it?
I really enjoy finding solutions for our members. I always start with looking at the structure and seeing what we can do there, and I next look at what can be done to increase the customer’s comfort level. Those are the two big areas for improvement.

What’s the last hobby you picked up?
I’m an exercise person, I do spinning. I’ve been attending a 45-minute class twice a week now for over four years and have ran several 5K races.

If you could switch lives with a person for a day, who would it be?
You know, it’s funny you’d ask that but I had an aunt who recently passed away and it’s still in my mind how positive she was. I couldn’t change lives, obviously, but I’d like to live like she did. It was just amazing how she kept positive through everything. It’s been amazing the impact that she had on me. You just don’t find caring people like her anymore.

What’s the best thing that happened to you yesterday?
As I was getting ready to go home for the day we got a call about a car accident. My partner and I went to the accident. A car had skidded on ice and struck a power pole. It turned out to be just a minor little thing on a feeder circuit. With an accident like that, people could have been seriously injured, but everybody walked away okay. That’s a very positive way to end the day. The next day we replaced the pole.

How’d you change your energy habits at home after you took this job?
I had a lot of problems in the house I bought and in situations like that you always ask yourself, “What did I get myself into?” The house was leaky and had baseboard electric, so for every 10 kilowatt hours that went through my meter, 8 went straight outside. This wasn’t an old house, either; this was built in ’78 and I bought it in ’85. But it was typical for houses built in the ’70s to put in R11 cover all with drywall and call it good. I had to punch holes in the drywall to put in insulation. The work I put in the house has made it comfortable and it is now a more energy efficient home.

I can relate to young families who purchase a home only to discover the home has serious energy in-efficiencies. The electric bills are high, the house is cold and uncomfortable and they are uncertain how to fix the problem correctly. It can be very stressful for young families.

So now in my work, after those experiences, we can really help people. I know what they’re going through. I learned a lot with Dr. Bill Hill at Ball State University, and now as soon as I walk onto a property I can see things nobody else can because of my training. We also use an infrared scanner that helps identify problem areas of a home very efficiently.

What’s the number-one thing members want to know?
The first thing they ask about is their energy consumption and then they ask how they can make it better. One of the things I like about the infrared scanner is that I can give it to people and let them walk around with it. They can really see firsthand when they’re losing energy.

What’s the number-one thing you wish they knew?
It really comes down to the physics of insulation. There are many, many builders who think a house can’t be built too tight because it has to breathe. But one of the things Dr. Hill taught us is that when you see black on fiberglass insulation that means the insulation is acting like a filter. Just like the filter on your furnace.   But it also means that you are losing the heat you’ve paid for out through that insulation. Finding where the air is leaking and sealing those places will help the air quality, save energy and stop the uncomfortable drafts in the house.

If you weren’t part of the Energy Advisor Program, what would you be doing?
I would be in heating and air conditioning, because my passion in the science of HVAC has been there since I was in high school. And now, actually, my son owns an HVAC business. Somehow that passion got passed down. It’s amazing how that works.