Wednesday March 27, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Abby Mnookin and her family spent a nice afternoon last week watching the snow come down from inside their 100-year-old house on Maple Street.

A few years ago she would have spent more time feeding the wood stove, nudging the thermostat up and beating back the chill with another sweater.

Last Tuesday, though, the house maintained a steady temperature.

Less wood was burned, the thermostat barely kicked on and family stayed warmer thanks to an energy efficiency project the family completed in the winter of 2011.

Now the Brattleboro Energy Committee is working to get more stories like the Mnookin's out as the town takes part in a statewide initiative to increase the number of homes that complete energy audits and move ahead on energy efficiency projects.

"We did this for environmental and economic reasons and it has made a big difference," Mnookin said Tuesday. "It felt like the right thing to do for so many reasons."

Last month Gov. Peter Shumlin launched the Vermont Home Energy Challenge to encourage more families like the Mnookin to get an energy audit and apply for the state incentives that help cover some of the costs associated with upgrades.

Across Vermont 75 energy groups, including the one in Brattleboro, have agreed to take part in the program that seeks to weatherize an additional 80,000 by 2020.

Brattleboro, and 9 other Windham County towns, are trying to weatherize at least 3 percent of each town's year round occupied houses or apartments.


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The average Vermont homeowner can cut their energy bills by 20-30 percent through a home efficiency project, and save, on average, about $1,000 every year.

"Dollar for dollar we know that energy efficiency is one of the best investments there is," Shumlin said. "It cuts energy bills, keeps more money in our state's economy, and creates jobs for builders and contractors around the state. That's a great story for Vermonters to share with their friends and neighbors as they mobilize for the 2013 Home Energy Challenge."

As part of the statewide initiative, towns will be able to track their progress against other towns.

Over the past few years Vermont has seen s harp increase in the number of energy efficiency projects and there are now energy committees or energy coordinators in more than half of Vermont towns.

"There is no question that our small state is a leader on community energy initiatives and grassroots engagement," said Johanna Miller, Energy Program Director with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

"We are really excited about the Challenge's potential to put even more momentum behind those efforts, and importantly, help Vermonters stop wasting heat and money."

Mnookin said when her family purchased the house a few years ago they realized work would have to be done to improve the energy efficiency.

The energy audit, which is the first step of any project, found very little insulation in the walls and attic.

The audit, coupled with the state and federal assistance encouraged them to tackle the upgrades years before they originally thought they would take them on.

They added cellulose and rigid foam insulation to the attic and buttoned up their basement.

She says the difference was noticeable right away.

In the end, she says, they saved more money on the project and on heating bills, and each winter since has been more comfortable.

"We want to reduce our carbon footprint any way we can, so we knew it was something we were going to do. It made sense for us to do it at the time because there were so many incentives," she said. "It felt like the right thing to do for so many reasons. It made a big difference."

The Mnookins paid about $8,000, and got about $2,500 back from Efficiency Vermont, plus another $1,500 in federal tax credits.

Town Energy Coordinator Paul Cameron says the statewide challenge is a way to both spread the word about doing energy projects, and get more people interested by having them take part in the drive to get more Vermont homes weatherized.

A website will track the towns as more home owners take on projects, and towns, and regions, will compete for prizes.

In the coming months the town energy committee will host informational sessions at the homes of families who have already completed projects.

The financial incentives, and the support to help figure out the best projects to take on at home, will lead to more construction work in the area, extra value in the homes that do weatherize, and less fuel being burned.

"The folks who have already done this are seeing the savings and we want to get that word out, said Cameron. "People say they want to do it, but can't afford it, and we want to let them know there is help out there now. Our goal is to motivate people to start capturing those energy savings."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.