Eight island homes received professional home energy assessments and basic weatherization upgrades at a reduced cost during the Vinalhaven Energy Club’s first “Weatherization Week,” a program sponsored in part by the Island Institute with the support of Efficiency Maine.
From July 16 through 20, participating homeowners received a home energy audit plus six man-hours of insulation and air-sealing for a maximum cost of $200. Similar services for individuals not participating in a subsidized program can cost between $700 and $1,000. Bringing a certified energy advisor to an island would be an additional expense. According to Karol Kucinski, leader of the Energy Club, the services provided during Weatherization Week will pay for themselves within one heating season.
The idea for Weatherization Week came when Kucinski heard about a similar community-based weatherization program held in Unity last year. At the time, the Energy Club was looking for a new project, and this fit the bill. Home Energy Answers, a certified energy and weatherization company from Albion, completed the work on the Vinalhaven homes.
Keith McPherson, owner of Home Energy Answers, is a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified energy efficiency contractor. During each home visit, he first assessed the home’s air flow by attaching a special blower to an exterior door. The blower’s specialized instrumentation measured the home’s flow of moisture, heat and air. According to Kucinski, during the audit, a crew would seal leaks and make repairs so homeowners could see improvements right away. “The way you can tell it’s successful,” he said, “is the blower door. The readings on the instruments go down right away.” Kucinski felt that all the participating homeowners were “pretty happy with the work.”
Rhoda Boughton is a year-round Vinalhaven resident who took advantage of the Weatherization Week program. Her house is 209 years old. “The Energy Club came here during the winter and installed interior storm windows. It made such a wonderful difference in the comfort of my house,” Boughton said. “When the Energy Club asked to use my house as a demonstration [for Weatherization Week], I was happy to agree.”
“I have some warped doors that don’t close,” she added. “They put sealants around the doors and flashings around the doors. I have a room where the wallpaper is peeling. They said repapering wouldn’t help until I closed up openings behind that paper, so they discovered lots of openings I didn’t know about.
“I’ve been spending a good deal on oil and not getting the comfort I felt I should have for the expense. I’ve been cold,” Boughton said. “That was the biggest motivation for doing this.”
McPherson gave Boughton suggestions for additional work she can do to make her home even more energy efficient. “I can’t do it all now,” she said, “but as I can, I will. All of this information was very helpful. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I’m very grateful they did it.”
Kucinski also took advantage of the weatherization program. His house is approximately 125-130 years old. McPherson and his team found many air leaks to seal in Kucinski’s house.
“Even though we had been foamed, they still found leaks around the foundation that they sealed,” Kucinski said. “Also, they sealed around the trap doors to the attic to keep warm air from flowing out of the house in the winter.” McPherson also tried to seal an enormous draft from the house to the basement where a staircase had been removed, but Kucinski thought that area might require additional work in the future. Kucinski was “very pleased” with the work done by Home Energy Answers.
One of the biggest recommendations McPherson had for the homeowners he saw on Vinalhaven was to apply a layer of foam in their basements between the stone or concrete and the sills of the house. According to Kucinski, stone or concrete provides very little insulation, only that equal to one layer of glass. A foam layer would help immensely.
The Energy Club is working on organizing a program similar to Weatherization Week in which Home Energy Answers would return later in the fall to apply a foam layer to people’s basements. The Energy Club is hoping to get funding to make this a subsidized program as well. However, according to Kucinski, if it were to be subsidized, they would need a large grant due to the high cost of the foam. “Foaming is so much more expensive than what we did before,” he said.
The Club hopes to target low-income families in order to justify grant money. And if the foaming project cannot be organized for this fall, the Energy Club will continue to build interior storm windows and is also considering holding another Weatherization Week in the future. The Island Institute has also received funding to host additional weatherization weeks on Maine’s outer island where it is often most difficult to obtain these services.
Kris Osgood is a freelance contributor living on Vinalhaven.