Effort Is Underway to ‘Button Up’ Vermont

Sunday, October 06, 2013
Strafford — At the town recycling center on Saturday, Energy Committee Chairwoman Dori Wolfe set out apple cider and a box of doughnuts to entice recyclers to learn more about weatherizing their homes, but most of those who dropped by did not appear to need the tasty incentives.

Wolfe, an alternative energy consultant by trade, was recruiting pledges for “Button Up Vermont,” a home-weatherization campaign spearheaded by a statewide energy and climate action network meant to lower energy bills and curb climate change. The flow of visitors to Wolfe’s table was almost as steady as the clinking of glass bottles landing in recycling bins, and most were already undergoing steps to weatherize their homes. That included veterinarian David Lamb, who was at the center with his 14-year-old daughter, Rebekah.

As Lamb went through the checklist of energy efficiency measures with Wolfe, the two began to sound like pilot and co-pilot running through a pre-flight checklist.

Energy efficient light bulbs?


Low-flow shower heads?


Weather-stripped doors and windows?


Lamb, who said he is driven by reasons both financial and environmental, also recently installed an energy-efficient furnace, replaced some windows and plans to have his chimney rebuilt next week.

“And it’s comfort,” he said. “We live in an old house. For the last 20, 30 years, we’ve been buttoning it up step by step.”

Wolfe said the goal of Saturday’s “day of action” was to get the state closer to its goal of reducing “air leakage” — a sign of poor insulation — by 10 percent at the year’s end. She said she was pleasantly surprised by the healthy turnout, and received about 25 pledges on Saturday, more than half of the 40 or so she has recruited this year.

Town energy committees across the state are competing to earn the most pledges, with the goal of weatherizing 3 percent of the homes within their communities. And while Wolfe acknowledged the advantage being located in the Upper Valley — known to be one of the more environmentally active parts of the state — the town still faces challenges, which were also evident on Saturday.

Wolfe said her “big push” this year is to get people to sign up for a home energy efficiency audit, which identifies what work needs to be done to weatherize. The statewide energy group Efficiency Vermont is offering $250 rebates for those who agree to pay for an audit — which can cost up to $500 — and go on to improve their home’s air leakage by at least 10 percent.

For Erin Yunger, a Strafford native who lives in a 200-year-old house with her husband and two small children, fuel costs are the family’s biggest expense each year.

But Yunger, who graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in botany in 2002, said it isn’t just the fuel expense that encourages more energy efficiency — she has been an environmental advocate since college.

“Our economy is just so entrenched in oil,” she said. “Vermont is better than the rest of the country, though.”

While Yunger has taken small steps to be more fuel-efficient — such as seasonal window-insulation, a woodstove for hot water heating, caulking the basement and a newer fuel tank on her furnace — the price tag of the audit was more than she could afford.

And more energy efficiency could be a real boon for Yunger, who relies on the federally funded Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program, which has been cut by Congress in recent years, in part because of the sequester.

“It’s good to know you have at least one tank of oil there for when you really need it,” Yunger said of the program.

Wolfe said homes that need weatherization the most are often owned by families who may not be able to afford the investment.

However, Wolfe pointed to Kathy Robinson, of Strafford, who invested about $10,000 in a month-long weatherization project in August, and has no regrets.

After insulating the basement, outside walls and ceiling, the home has seen a 53 percent increase in energy efficiency. Robinson said she was told that would mean 10 cords of wood to heat the home this winter, as opposed to the usual 20.

“That would be great,” said Robinson, who didn’t charge headfirst into the weatherization project but rather was worked on by Wolfe over time.

Nonetheless, she said, she could see a difference in the home already, and was optimistic that she would see a return on her investment.

“It cost a lot of money, and the initial quote was higher than I thought I could afford,” she said. “But I could pull enough together and know that it was going to give me a more comfortable home.”

Other towns in the Upper Valley that participated yesterday include Norwich, Thetford, Randolph, Sharon and Weathersfield.

Joel Legunn, a Thetford Energy Committee member, enticed residents at the recycling center with a free raffle, and said the turnout there was also large. He estimated that more than 30 pledges were recruited on Saturday, but added that the committee had garnered more than 145 pledge cards beforehand, a total he believes brings Thetford into the lead statewide for pledges.

And while Legunn was quick to boast his town’s numbers, he said the competition was all in good fun.

“You don’t lose, and if you get people on board, you win,” he said. “If we find a trick to get more pledges, we’re going to tell the other towns, because the ultimate goal is to get a reduction in the state.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213