October 29, 2012

Weatherization program gives old homes new life

Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, Waterville and Winslow combine to help residents reduce energy use, save money

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Alice and David Anderman went from having a cold kitchen with no heat to enjoying a warm, cozy one.

They also were delighted to discover, after they weatherized their very large Victorian house this year, that their home is no longer drafty in other places.

“The house is more comfortable because there aren’t any cold spots,” Alice Anderman said. “That’s the first thing I noticed. It has really made a big difference.”

The Andermans also look forward to paying less for energy.

“We’ll recoup our costs in seven to 10 years,” David Anderman said. “We’ll save on heating; we’ll save on electric.”

The couple are among 50 homeowners who took advantage of a special program launched by Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition and Waterville and Winslow officials to help residents reduce home energy use and encourage use of sustainable fuel sources.

The project was possible with a $170,000 state Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant and months of development by a Sustain Mid-Maine team led by John Joseph. Sustain Mid-Maine and the two communities collaborated with Kennebec Valley Community Action Program to do 350 consultations in people’s homes to see whether they qualified for the program. Then, 150 home energy audits were performed and homeowners received rebates of up to $300 toward the audit cost.

Sustain Mid-Maine coordinator Linda Woods said overall, oil savings for the 50 homes that completed weatherization projects is estimated at 90,000 gallons. With today’s estimated cost of fuel at $3.40 per gallon, the savings translate into about $342,000 a year.

“We took $170,000 and we basically converted it into $342,000, so we more than doubled the money were given,” Woods said. “As an environmentalist, my concern is that we do the best we can to conserve and reduce our oil consumption, and that’s important.”

Sustain Mid-Maine is a grass-roots initiative that seeks to conserve resources, sustain a healthy environment and promote economic prosperity in central Maine. Volunteers promote energy conservation and alternative energy use for businesses, residents and municipalities.

Woods said the organization is looking for funding to do more home weatherizations.

John Reuthe was hired as program manager for the project, which was completed in August. He spoke with homeowners to make sure they were not receiving low-income heating assistance and could afford to complete weatherization projects. He also walked through their homes and made suggestions about weatherization projects they could do on their own.

Reuthe recommends that municipalities with code enforcement officers launch similar programs to help homeowners weatherize their houses, with the town or city maintaining records that can travel with the houses when they are sold. Waterville and Winslow have a lot of houses and apartment buildings that are older and would benefit from such programs, he said. Weatherizing a building also increases its value, he said.

Reuthe has personal experience of the savings one can realize. He weatherized his own home, which was built in 1797, and went from using 1,800 gallons of fuel a year to about 1,000 gallons of propane, even though he expanded the house by 600 square feet.

Waterville City Manager Michael Roy handled all the logistics and book work for the program and met extensively with Joseph and Reuthe.

Roy said Waterville and Winslow were extremely fortunate to have secured the Efficiency Maine grant.

“Everyone knows that conservation is a key component of becoming more energy-independent, and this grant led to significant residential weatherization improvements that will help people use less oil,” Roy said. “In addition, the two communities are still examining the viability of creating a district energy project that would provide savings on a much larger scale.”

Sustain Mid-Maine has been working on that idea for more than a year and continues to look at alternative energy options for not only energy savings, but also for encouraging economic development, Roy said.

The Andermans took out a 15-year home-equity loan to complete their weatherization project, which took about two months of on-and-off work by contractors.

Their home, built in 1900, got a new, energy-efficient hot-water heater and furnace that may be converted to natural gas in the future; a new thermostat system that is programmable and covers four zones of the house; insulation in both the cellar and attic; and radiator replacements.

David Anderman, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, in Waterville, and Alice Anderman, pastor of Winthrop Congregational United Church of Christ, said they highly recommend weatherizing a home.

“And we want to do whatever we can to take care of the environment,” Alice Anderman said. “I’d say to people that it’s a very good investment, and the contractors were all just top-notch. They knew what they were doing and they were very, very easy to work with.”

Karen and Peter Newkirk, of Winslow, weatherized their 150-year-old, eight-room farmhouse by investing close to $20,000 in the project. They blew insulation into the basement, replaced a dozen windows in the house, stripped the house’s exterior, installed insulation board around the outside and resided it.

“The floors are warmer when you walk on them,” Kate Newkirk said. “We also have an outdoor wood boiler, which we got five or six years ago for $7,000 or $8,000. We’ve probably got that paid off, and more.”

Like the Andermans, the Newkirks are energy- and environment-conscious.

“We believe that oil is not a good basis for running the economy,” Kate Newkirk said. “That’s our mantra here -- be as sustainable as possible.”

The cost of oil and electricity is going to continue to increase, and old houses are going to continue to deteriorate, said Kate Newkirk, an organic certifier and associate director of processing and handling for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. She also has a consulting business that does inspections for other certifiers, and her husband works for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“You’re throwing money out the window, basically,” she said, of living in a leaky home. “I think it’s worth it, economically if nothing else. My soul feels good because it’s economical if you’re using less oil -- and you’re paying for less oil, which helps your pocketbook.”

Sustain Mid-Maine last year received the prestigious Hastings Award from the Efficiency Maine Trust for its efforts to further Maine’s goals of energy efficiency and environmental enhancement.

Woods said a sustainability conference will be held from 8:15 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Saturday at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. The event is free and open to the public.

Those wanting more information may go to the website: www.sustainmidmaine.org

Amy Calder — 861-9247

click image to enlarge

The Revs. Alice and David Anderman speak about the weatherization program they participated in beside a new energy-efficient furnace, hot water tank and foam insulation-covered walls in the basement of their home in Waterville.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Weatherization tips

• As much as 60 percent of heat loss in a typical Maine Home is from cold air leaking into the house. The first step is to seal cracks and plug holes.
• When adding insulation to your house, look for areas that have the least insulation, such as basement walls, rim joists, windows and the attic.
• Use door sweeps and weather-strip all exterior doors.
• Use foam insulators for exterior wall switch plates and electrical receptacles.
• Clear plastic can safely seal and insulate windows. Follow the directions on the package.
• Install a programmable thermostat.
• Insulate attic access hatch or door.

Source: John Reuthe, program manager, Sustain Mid-Maine Residential Energy Program

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