Editorial: Comfort Zone; The Wisdom of Pushing Weatherization

It has always been a bit of a mystery to us why, when so many contentious issues surround climate change and renewable energy, more emphasis is not placed on one that is eminently uncontroversial — making buildings more energy efficient.

Perhaps the answer is as simple as this. “Weatherization is not sexy,” laments Sally Miller, chairwoman of Sustainable Woodstock. “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.”

She’s got a point. For example, adding insulation is not an act calculated to fire the imagination of most people. But it’s important nonetheless. After all, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that buildings account for 36 percent of total energy use, 65 percent of electricity consumption, and 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And homeowners and businesses stand to save real money on energy costs while inhabiting more comfortable buildings and helping to combat climate change.

Vermont is trying to do something to make the many attractions of home energy efficiency more vivid, as staff writer Jon Wolper reported in Saturday’s Valley News. The state hopes that by the end of the current decade, 80,000 Vermont households will have been weatherized. To that end, Efficiency Vermont, a creation of the Legislature and the Vermont Public Service Board, is spearheading an effort called the Vermont Home Energy Challenge, with the idea of trying to weatherize 3 percent of homes in Vermont communities by year end. It is offering financial incentives to homeowners and to towns that complete the highest percentage of projects. In this area, Bradford, Fairlee, Hartland, Norwich, Randolph, Sharon, Strafford, Thetford, Topsham, Tunbridge, Weathersfield and Woodstock are participating.

Homeowners who set up a home energy audit by the end of this month and complete it by the end of June are eligible for a $100 discount on the typical $400 to $450 cost, while Efficiency Vermont will provide up to $2,000 to homeowners who get the construction work done through the certified Energy Star Home Performance program. Average annual savings on heating bills are estimated to be between $750 and $1,000, according to Bob Walker, director of the Sustainable Energy Resource Group, a nonprofit that helped design the challenge. As Miller notes, even a small investment can yield significant savings.

Anyone who has passed a New England winter — or many of them — in a drafty old house should be able to appreciate just how powerful this idea is. There is nothing that adds insult to injury quite like listening to the furnace running constantly while sitting huddled in the living room as a north wind seeps in around the windows and doors, and heat leaks out through the roof. One is acutely aware that large amounts of money are being burned to little positive effect.

Besides, there is little that offends the Yankee sensibility quite like wasting anything of value, whether it’s energy or money. It just feels wrong, and it is. So we urge Vermonters to think about striking a small blow against climate change while pursuing their long-range economic self-interest. In a way, it’s downright attractive, if not sexy.