To Weatherize or Not to Weatherize: That’s a Question?

by Paul Markowitz, Net Zero Montpelier

High heating bills getting you down? Tired of your home being cold in the winter? Wondering how to get rid of those giant (and dangerous) icicles hanging from your roof?

Weatherize Montpelier could be the right fit for you! Weatherize Montpelier is a new initiative of Net Zero Montpelier, which is teaming up with local home energy contractors to help you save money and stay warm by weatherizing your home. Over 550 Montpelier residents have already improved their homes through comprehensive weatherization improvements, reducing their home heating bills by an average of 20–25percent! You could be next!

Typically, contractors will charge homeowners $300–$400 for a home energy audit – which provides the basis for their cost estimate. Under Weatherize Montpelier, qualified local contractors will conduct free home energy visits and prepare a free scope of work for energy efficiency improvements in your home. These home energy visits involve a visual assessment and walk-through of the home, which usually takes about an hour. After the walk-through, the contractor will then develop a free scope of work and quote for the cost of the work. This program is based on a successful model by Weatherize Upper Valley, which has helped weatherize scores of homes in southern Vermont and New Hampshire.

In order to qualify for the free home visit, homeowners are asked to complete a 15 minute online survey about their energy usage and housing characteristics. The on-line survey can be found at www.netzeromontpelier.org/weatherize. Participants must sign up by March 31st in order to qualify for the free home visit. Homeowners get to choose from among four energy contractors for their free home energy visit. Participating contractors include:

  • Building Energy
  • Energy Smart of Vermont
  • Montpelier Construction
  • Weatherization and Renovation of Montpelier (WARM)

Efficiency Vermont has several attractive financial incentives to help you with home weatherization, including to $2000 in incentives and the Heat Saver Loan program, which provides low-interest loans for qualifying projects. For more information on these financial incentives, go to: www.efficiencyvermont.com/services/financing/homes. For those homeowners who commit by May 31st to complete a project, Net Zero Montpelier is providing a raffle prize of an additional $500 toward the cost of the project.

Homeowners in Montpelier and surrounding communities are eligible to participate. Weatherize Montpelier is done in partnership with and co-sponsored by: the City of Montpelier, Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee, Efficiency Vermont, Green Mountain Power, Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network, and VSECU.

Below are three case studies involving Montpelier residents who have undertaken comprehensive weatherization improvements on their homes plus other measures to reduce their home energy bills.

Home of Paul and Deb Markowitz, 4 Pearl St., Montpelier

We have a 1903 “Arts and Crafts” style house, with a total square footage of about 2400 square feet. We have undertaken two major weatherization efforts–first in 2006 (focused on the attic) and then again in 2009 (focused on the basement). These improvements included: air sealing and bringing insulation levels up to 16″ in the attic, spray foaming our basement down to below grade, and air sealing and adding insulation to the attic hatch. The cost of these improvements was approximately $12,000 – with incentives from Efficiency Vermont. In addition to weatherization, we installed a wood pellet stove in 2008. In total, we reduced our oil usage from 1400 to 425 gallons of fuel oil. In addition to fuel oil, today we are now heating our house with two tons of pellets/per year (or the equivalent of about 230 gallons of oil) for a total savings of about 650 gallons equivalent of fuel oil. This amounts to a 50 percent reduction in our oil use. We also installed a heat pump hot water heater to replace our electric resistance heat hot water heater – which cut our electrical by 25 percent. We also replaced our old oil furnace with a high efficiency furnace. The benefits we are realizing? Reduced energy use and bills, increased comfort, and fewer rodents and spiders!

Home of Amy Gamble, 15 Spring St., Montpelier

After receiving an energy audit from a local weatherization contractor, we moved ahead with insulating the attic and packing the walls with cellulose insulation, using spray foam insulation around a dormer window, tightening up the attic door and the basement bulkhead door, and doing some spot air sealing in the basement. We chose not to do extensive basement work at that time. After the work was completed, we had a dramatic 47 percent reduction in air infiltration. The house was much less drafty, and felt noticeably more comfortable. Our fuel oil use dropped from nearly 1000 gallons per year to under 600 gallons, and even our electric use dropped by nearly 30 percent, as it was easier to keep the house cooler in the summer. The benefits were immediate, and financially the work paid for itself in about six years–and it keeps on paying. Our $9,000 investment saves us about $1,500 per year in utility costs. In addition, we replaced our aging furnace with more efficient one, added solar panels to our carriage house roof, and last year installed a heat pump to assist with heating and cooling. We are now ready to tackle the second phase of weatherization—basement spray foam insulation!

Home of Jared and Joan Duval, 610 Elm St., Montpelier

We moved back to Vermont in 2014 into an 1890 Victorian with a lot of character, but it was also very leaky and outdated when it came to efficiency and energy use. Our first year in the house we consumed over 1,000 gallons of fuel oil for heating (space and hot water), at a total cost of nearly $2,400. So the following spring, we decided to do a comprehensive “whole-house” retrofit to accomplish four goals simultaneously: reduce fossil fuel use as much as possible, support the Vermont economy by using local and renewable energy, increase comfort and improve air quality for health reasons, and save money. After getting a comprehensive energy audit, we first had to make some improvements to our foundation, and then we moved forward with weatherizing our basement with spray foam and our attic with blown-in cellulose insulation. Overall, we reduced our air leakage by over 50 percent. Overall project cost for the weatherization improvements was approximately $11,000 and we received an incentive check from Efficiency Vermont for $1,700 reducing the total weatherization costs to a little over $9000. We have also installed a wood pellet stove which comfortably heats almost our entire house. We also converted our hot water heating from fuel oil to heat pump hot water heater. Our fuel oil usage is down to 100 gallons, while we burn approximately 4.5 tons of pellets – or an equivalent of 460 gallons of oils. In total, we have reduced our fuel usage by almost 50.

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