The Hartford's in Peru, Maine
It’s funny how what you do everyday can all of the sudden be thrust into a national spotlight. We make our living weatherizing houses making them warmer, more comfortable, and more energy efficient. I read an article in the NY Times and here was a neighbor, the Hartford’s, that couldn’t pay their heating bill and a local businessman, Ike Libby, having to make impossible decisions. The obvious short-term fix was to fill the Hartford’s tank with oil so they could heat their house, but they clearly needed a long-term fix to reduce the amount of oil they use in order to be able to afford to heat their house for years to come. I thought, that’s where we come in. We are experts at fixing the problem the Hartford’s and many others have, after all, weatherizing is what we do everyday.
Tuesday 2/21: Ike Libby of Hometown Energy and our owner Josh Wojcik led off the 6 o'clock evening news on WCSH channel 6.
Saturday 2/18: We finished the Hartford's house on Thursday but we just weren't satisfied with a 50% reduction. There were still some oppurtunities to be had so we had a small crew go back Friday to tighten up the house just a bit more. They managed to seal up an additional 400cfm, which raised our reduction to 63%. See the updated graph, data, and reports here.
Thursday 2/16: Today was a long and hard day, but absolutely rewarding. We started at 7am and got right to work. We quickly discovered that the small section of rot that we had detected yesterday was actually a much bigger problem than anticipated. About half the lower roof was rotted. But the team got right onto it and by lunch, the roof was insulated and fully air-sealed. By 2pm, the roof was restored – and actually much better than before. Today, I realized how much I appreciate working with a team of real professionals. The roof was a major setback, but they took it in stride, got it done right. If these guys were in the military, they’d be the Navy SEALS of weatherization. Failure is simply not an option. While we were working on the roof, Grady Littlehale from Dixfield Foam Insulation, came took care of the spray foam project in the basement. He’s the consummate professional and did an awesome job. By 4pm, DeWitt had his blower door up and running and was checking our work while we finished some final details and cleaned up the site. We cut the air leakage in the Hartford’s house by 50%! and the thermal imagery looked solid. With this dramatic reduction in air-leakage and the proper R-values in place, the Hartfords will more see a heating bill that’s less than half of what it used to be.
Wednesday 2/15: Day one of the project: I stopped by Home Town Energy first thing in the morning to check in with Ike. The crew was up and running by 7:30am and got right to work gaining access to the upper and lower attic cavities. We pulled out all the old fiberglass - along with many leaves and other traces of rodent infestation (something common with fiberglass-filled attics). With attic space this tight, it's important to clear out as much space as possible to make room for the new, higher performing insulation. In this project we're using a combination of cellulose and foil-faced polyisocyanurate. The work went fairly smoothly except that we discovered a small section of rot on the lower roof. Unfortunately we had a dark cloud cast over our first day. We found out our new friend Erin Cox of the Sun Journal was hit by a car last night. Our thoughts are with her for a speedy recovery.
Monday 2/13: Met with Ike Libby of Hometown Energy today to discuss the project and our proposal (see it here) that we will be starting Wednesday February 15th. He has generously offered to pay for the materials and we will cover the labor and expertise to make sure the job is done right, the first time. There have been other energy efficiency contractors that have voiced interest in helping and hopefully those will come to fruition as well.
Ike and I continue the discussion about future plans to help out other families in the area. There has been a quiet call for help form others in the area. We have talked before that the Hartford’s are not a unique case; in fact their situation is all too common.
Friday 2/10: Josh and I finalize the work scope for the Hartford’s. The attic is a must, since reducing heat loss is primarily about stopping heat from rising up and out of a building. Second we decide to move on the basement instead of the exterior walls due to cost and benefit. The exterior walls have some insulation (R-4) and have a structure that would make insulating very costly compared to the basement. The basement has a lot of R-1 square footage that is very exposed. We are very fortunate that Grady Littlehale of Dixfield Foam Insulation has joined us and offered his time and expertise to help out doing the spray foam for the basement.
What I found amazing is that our work would cost about the same as a new boiler, but our project will pay for itself in about 4 years and will continue to save them money for years to come. A new boiler would just be more efficient at sending heat out the roof and probably never pay for itself!
Tuesday 2/7: Josh and I head back to meet with Ike at Hometown Energy. There has been a huge outpouring of donations for the Hartford’s and their plight. The donations coming in are great, but filling the Hartford’s tank with oil does not solve the real problem. We show him the energy audit DeWitt Kimball did and his findings. The Hartford’s house is letting all the heat go right out the roof. They will be back in the same situation next year, probably much sooner as this has been a very mild winter. They need oil, yes, but they need a long-term solution. We talk about how doing a proper weatherization retrofit will save the Hartford’s money this year, and every year after. We need to fix the problem not just keep giving them money to burn, literally.
Monday 2/6: A big day. The Audit Report from DeWitt Kimball of Complete Home Evaluation Services is done. It pretty much supports what we found on our walk through. The boiler is operating at 81% efficiency, which means no need to replace it. Replacing it would be a huge cost for a very small return. The report confirms that, like typical homes in the northern climates, the biggest gains are to be made by air-sealing and insulating the attic spaces (38% reduction), the exterior walls (9% reduction), and the basement (8% reduction).
An article by Erin Cox in the Sun Journal explains the problem is about more than just high oil prices. The problem is a combination of oil prices, the age and condition of Maine’s houses and our government’s lack of support for energy efficiency.
Sunday 2/5: DeWitt Kimball of Complete Home Evaluation Services and Peter Troast of Energy Circle both offered to help so I invited them up to meet the Hartford’s and Ike. Ike invited Erin Cox from the Sun Journal to see first hand what we were doing for the Hartford’s. De Witt performed a complete energy audit using a blower door kit and infrared camera along with other tools to determine the highest priority items to make their home more energy efficient. While DeWitt got started, I got busy fixing a missing window with some rigid foam and taking measurements to start our work scope for the retrofit. We think that there is some significant savings to be had here, guessing about 50%. I think anyone would be happy cutting their heating bill in half!
Saturday 2/4: I drove out to Dixfield to meet both Ike Libby of Hometown Energy and the Hartford’s. I first tracked down Ike at his office. The office was a busy place for a Saturday, phones ringing the whole time I was there. I briefly explained whom I worked for and that we do weatherization retrofits and offered our help. He was overwhelmed with people calling to donate money, but he was kind enough to point me to the Hartford’s. I drove the few minutes to the Hartford’s and met Bob and Wilma. I told them I worked for Upright Frameworks and explained that we perform weatherization retrofits and how that can help them with their situation. They were kind enough to let me in their home and show me around. My initial walk through revealed a typical Maine home that has substantial air leakage as well as insulation deficiencies that allow heat to escape from just about everywhere, but especially the attic and through the roof.
I finished up my walk through and headed back to tell Ike about my visit with the Hartford’s. He mentioned a new boiler among other improvements that they had in mind. I explained to him in more detail about weatherization retrofits, and that they actually may not need a new boiler. We could solve their problem not just this year, but for good, for about the same price as that boiler.