Now that, at last, we can turn off the furnace and shut down the wood stove (and stop bleeding our bank accounts into the veins of the fuel companies) it is time to take a good hard look at our household energy use. Years ago I had a man called the Draft Detective come to my old summer cabin at the lake and do that thing with the blower fan in the doorframe. What a hoot! The idea is that the fan sucks the air out of the house and reveals the sources of air leakage. My cabin was a sieve ... with a breeze flowing from every electric outlet, window frame, and doorjamb. He returned with a sort of glue gun, and 8 cartridges later he had caulked my cabin together from top to bottom. This caulkathon cost me $500.
After the dreadful winter of 2013-14 and the huge drain on our financial resources it entailed, it is timely that Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and the NeighborWorks of Western Vermont are partnering to help us make a big dent in our energy costs through the NeighborWorks H.E.A.T. Squad -- a "One-Stop-Shop" for home energy efficiency. The homeowner calls the H.E.A.T. Squad to schedule a "Home Energy Audit" wherein a certified energy professional conducts a detailed analysis of energy saving options and opportunities in the Homeowners home. The HEAT Squad has found that one of the key barriers to scheduling an audit is the upfront cost. Remember I paid $500 about 10 years ago to glue my 16’x 20’ cabin together. The HEAT Squad offers audits for only $100, thanks to its partnerships with selected and vetted independent energy professionals (Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractors). The energy professional that completes the audit provides the homeowner with a detailed analysis of energy saving possibilities for their specific home.
Once you know what your vulnerable spots are, then you can decide what, if anything, you want to do about it. One week after the homeowner receives the report a HEAT Squad Energy Advisor follows up with the homeowner to ensure the homeowner understands the report, and to help prioritize the work. The Energy Advisor is unbiased, has no financial stake in what you choose to do and can guide the homeowner to various follow-up options.
Project financing, designed to meet a range of income needs, particularly low-moderate income households, is available and the H.E.A.T. Squad folks understand how to tap into those funds. NeighborWorks of Western Vermont has established a significant loan pool, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, NeighborWorks America and the Clean Energy Development Fund. I probably could have had a whole lot of help 10 years ago if the H.E.A.T. Squad had been in existence then (and, of course, IF I had known about it.) The whole point for me of writing these columns is to spread the awareness of what is available in the form of help, advice, funding, etc. No matter how much you trust and respect your own contractor, plumber, heating specialist ... it would be next to a miracle for them to stay current on all these local resources for homeowners. This program only became available locally in September 2013, not even a full year ago.
For example, there are energy efficiency rebate programs out there. But if no one tells you about them, how many of us are knowledgeable enough to seek them out? Not me, certainly. This is where the development of a One-Stop-Shop with an unbiased certified energy professional, who has access to a wide range of available programs and options is such a big help.
Case in point: Bob Normand, a Wilmington resident, utilized these services this past year. After his Home Energy Audit, he opted to make multiple changes. He knew he had to replace his old oil burner. So, he bit the bullet and switched to a propane system. He estimates he saved $500-$600 on his heating bill this year even with the ghastly winter. He chucked his electric hot water heater and cut his electric bill in half. He had foam board insulation installed under his house and loose cellular blown into his house to improve the R Factor throughout. When the work was done he had the job reinspected by Efficiency Vermont. He qualified for a $2600 rebate based on his improved energy efficiency. He chose his own contractors and sub contractors.
The first step is not very costly (the $100 check up fee). After that, you can do nothing or something, whatever you wish. I heartily recommend that first step. Knowledge is power. If you decide to do so, call the HEAT Squad Intake and Scheduling Specialist toll free at 877-205-1147 ext 227
Claudette Hollenbeck is a resident of Wilmington, a retired Social Worker, on the Board of Trustees of Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and West River Habitat for Humanity.