by Heather Steeves
ROCKLAND, Maine — Tutti the cat isn’t happy about the renovations happening in her home. She’s the only one.
Jody and Michael Herbert suffered through a cold winter despite spending $3,400 on 4 tons of wood pellets and 800 gallons of propane to heat their three-bedroom home. The cost to heat was such that Michael Herbert thought they’d have to move out of the home his family has lived in since the 1930s.
But for the next two weeks the Herbert’s home will have paper lining over carpets and a cat hidden in an extra bedroom as men in white, bunny-looking suits insulate the building from top to bottom. The couple is the first in the state to receive a PACE loan to help with home improvements.
Maine received $30 million of The Property Assessed Clean Energy money from an American
Recovery Investment Act grant awarded by the Department of Energy in 2010. This April, Efficiency Maine started taking applications to disperse $20 million of the funds for home weatherizaton projects.
The Herberts applied by March 30.
“They were anxious to get started,” said Dana Fischer, Efficiency Maine’s residential program manager. “They were the first ones to apply. We hadn’t even launched the program yet.”
Town governments must first approve an ordinance to let the state funds flow in. When the Rockland City Council did this in April, the Herberts were watching on the local access TV channel.
The Herberts were one of more than 100 applicants. As of Tuesday, six had been approved. Dozens more are close to closing, according to Fischer. Efficiency Maine expects to weatherize 2,500 homes. Then, as those loan recipients pay back their money, the program will continue.
“We see this as seed money,” Fischer said.
The Herberts received the most money possible from a PACE loan: $15,000.
The couple had wanted to do the work for a while now, but couldn’t find a way.
“There was no money to do it,” Michael Herbert said Tuesday. “When I heard about the PACE loan and [heard] I could do the work with no upfront costs, I just said ‘yeah.’”
The PACE loan has a 4.99 percent interest rate and is spread out over 15 years.
So it breaks down like this: Michael and Jody pay about $120 per month for their loan for a total of about $1,400 per year. According to the couple’s energy audits, they will save half of their $3,400 fuel costs yearly, for a total savings of $1,700 annually.
“I realized it would pay for the loan and save money,” Michael Herbert said. “I’d been talking for years about moving out of the house, which we didn’t want to do, but it was so cold.”
The work at their home started in the attic.
Tuesday morning Adam Emery and Chris Farthing, workers for Evergreen Home Performance, a local weatherizing contractor, ripped up pink fluffy insulation in the dark, brown attic. The men had to stand on the 2-inch wide attic joists so they wouldn’t fall through the attic planks rife with chinks.
The original insulation was installed upside down, Farthing said, and wasn’t doing anyone much good. He could tell because the pink fur was full of dirt, which means air was blowing through the fluff.
“Essentially it’s an air filter,” he said.
Warm, heated air had been coming up around the chimney and through the cracks in the attic floor, flowing along between the rafters and escaping through the eaves.
In the next couple of days, the men will seal the floor and then pack it with cellulose insulation, stack on some of that fluffy pink insulation and then add more cellulose.
A similar procedure will happen in the basement, sandwiching the home’s living area with insulation.
Then, they will tackle the walls.
Brian Robinson, an energy auditor for the company weatherizing the home for the Herberts, was the first on the scene this spring. With his infrared camera he looked at where heat leaks were happening at the home. Robinson saw straight through the outside wall to the interior drywall. There was no insulation in between.
In fact, the only insulation in the house was what was incorrectly installed in the attic and what was in the walls of one renovated upstairs bedroom.
On Tuesday afternoon Robinson ripped down paper off an outside wall to expose a hole in the wall. He stuck his hand through it and touched the interior drywall a few inches away.
“There is nothing there,” he said. “It’s not as unusual as you might think.”
Maine has the oldest housing stock in the nation. Pair that with a winter full of snow and the state’s residents pay billions of dollars for fuel, Fischer said. Ideally, Efficiency Maine will help weatherize about 400,000 Maine homes in the next 20 years. This, he said, will help keep more money in Maine residents’ pockets.
For more information on PACE loans, visit Efficiency Maine online at: http://www.efficiencymaine.com/pace