by George Smith
Too many Mainers are sending their hard-earned dollars up the chimney, burning huge amounts of oil.
I know, because until 2008, those Mainers included us. Then we smartened up.
If you own an old house, reporter Amy Calder did you a big favor with her Oct. 29 column, “New life for old homes with weatherization.”
Calder told the story well and added very helpful weatherization tips such as this one: “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.”
We thought that would be easy, even though our home was built in 1790, because we’d installed a bunch of new windows over the years, and even blown insulation into the walls 20 years before.
Nevertheless, in 2008 we started with an energy audit. The Franklin County CAP sent Randy Burgess, an exceptionally knowledgeable guy, to our house to perform the audit. At that time a basic audit cost $150, and I opted for the complete written report with recommendations for an additional $100.
It’s foolish to spend thousands on energy conservation in your home without the guidance of an audit.
When Burgess fit the blower into our front door, turned it on and aimed his video camera around the room, I was astonished to learn that we had been heating all of Mount Vernon! Air infiltrated around every door and even poured in through the electrical vents. I think Calder’s 60 percent heat loss estimate was modest, at least in our case.
The best thing about the audit was that Burgess prioritized our conservation needs so we could spend our money wisely, focusing first on those that would do the most for us. Here’s what we opted to do:
We foamed the basement. One end of our house sits on granite blocks and rocks. Despite my best efforts to bank the house in the winter, wind whipped up through the living room floor and wild critters often spent the winter in the three feet of crawl space below the floor.
Dixfield Foam Insulation covered our basement walls with spray foam insulation, a water-based product. It’s more expensive than fiberglass but has many advantages.
About a month later, F&E Builders of Phillips arrived to blow cellulose into our walls and under the upstairs floors. We decided to close off the upstairs during the winter and shrink our living quarters to the first floor. This involved draining a bathroom and shutting off one heating zone.
Live small, that’s our new motto.
We removed a charming but inefficient Franklin stove in the living room and replaced it with a Vermont Castings stove from Rocky’s Stove Shop in Augusta. It’s amazingly efficient. We use it every evening from late October to mid-May, and burn only about two cords of wood a year. The wood comes off our woodlot and working it up keeps me trim. Well, nearly trim.
I also move my home office into the dining room during the coldest winter months and spend the day feeding wood into our kitchen cook stove. I know it’s inefficient, but it keeps me toasty and is fun to boot.
We are not among those who choose to be cold. Although I must say, over time, we’ve lowered our acceptable temperature to 67 degrees. Anything higher and we’re sweating.
While it might not be entirely pleasing to our friend Marc Lacasse at Augusta Fuel, we’ve cut our annual use of oil from 1,600 to 500 gallons. An added benefit for us is the wild critters no longer winter in our crawl space, the wind no longer whips up through the living room floorboards, and the wood fire delights us every evening.
One of the best outcomes of all this conservation work was that we had to clean out the attic and basement of “good stuff” that had accumulated there since we moved in 30 years ago, in order to install the insulation.
Six trailer-loads went to the dump after we asked the question a hundred times, “Why on earth did we keep this thing?”
The expense of the weatherization project was recovered in just three years.
While the weatherization projects that Calder wrote about were performed partly with the help of government grants, you are certain to save, over the years, much more than you spend when you weatherize your home.
Now, doesn’t that make you feel warm all over?