Energy Challenge Sets Ambitious Goal to Weatherize Vermont Homes
Sharon — At Town Meeting, where the Sharon Energy Committee gave a presentation about the importance of weatherizing homes, committee chairwoman Dee Gish recalled speaking to a woman whose home was often drafty, but she couldn’t think of an efficient way to seal it.
“I guess it’s not widely known,” Gish said of weatherization, the process of making home energry efficient by, in part, preventing warm air from escaping.
According to census data, there were more than 132 million housing units in the country in 2011. Last September, the number of houses that have been weatherized reached one million, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
To aid the process, several Vermont organizations have started the “Vermont Home Energy Challenge,” an attempt to weatherize 3 percent of every community’s homes by the end of the year, a move that would put the state on par to meet its goal of weatherizing 80,000 homes by the end of the decade.
Efficiency Vermont, which is running the challenge, will also offer financial incentives for homeowners and the towns that complete the highest percentage of projects.
“It’s going to save you energy, it’s going to save you money, it’s going to increase your home comfort and it’s going to decrease your impact on the environment,” said Bob Walker, the director of the nonprofit Sustainable Energy Resource Group, which helped design the challenge.
If homeowners set up an energy audit by the end of April and have it completed by the end of June, they’ll receive a $100 discount from Efficiency Vermont. Walker said the cost of an audit on a “typical” home ranges between $400 and $450.
Efficiency Vermont will provide up to $2,000 to homeowners who get their construction work done via Energy Star’s Home Performance program.
And the town in each of the six regions in the state that completes the highest percent of projects by the end of 2013 will receive $10,000 for a municipal efficiency program.
In the Upper Valley region, Bradford, Fairlee, Hartland, Norwich, Randolph, Sharon, Strafford, Thetford, Topsham, Tunbridge, Weathersfield and Woodstock have joined the challenge.
So far, progress trackers at Efficiency Vermont’s web site show only modest participation in most towns, including ones in the Upper Valley, though Thetford has received 43 percent of its desired pledges and Woodstock has garnered 27 percent.
Weybridge, Vt., leads the state, having already eclipsed its desired 32 pledges.
The slowness is due, in part, to a lack of information on the subject and the fact that changes — which often focus around identifying air leaks and insulation installation — aren’t exactly the most visible, officials said.
“Weatherization is not sexy,” said Sally Miller, who serves as chairwoman of Sustainable Woodstock and sits on the town energy committee. “People are not interested in doing weatherization. It’s hard to see; it’s hard to clarify what you’re going to get for your investment.”
However, according to Walker, there are plenty of upsides. Average savings, he said, come out to be between $750 and $1,000 on an annual heating bill, which works out to be a return on investment of between 11 and 15 percent.
Also, energy officials said, those with tightened-up houses live more comfortably.
“Even just a small investment in their time and money can really yield a significant savings,” Miller said.
Different towns are putting together campaigns of various breadths to try to get the word to residents. For instance, Bradford created a seven-person steering committee several months ago dedicated to spreading the word, according to Andrew Clark, who sits on the town energy committee. In Sharon, the energy committee will start a flyer campaign to go along with information disseminated via the town listserv, Gish said.
According to Miller, the lack of public understanding of weatherization’s benefits has been the biggest obstacle so far; however, she said, people are simply getting tired of ponying up for expensive electric and heating bills.
“I think more people are ready for this,” she said.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.