UNITY, Maine — More than 40 volunteers, many of them Unity College students, fanned out into Greater Unity on Saturday to help their neighbors winterize their homes.
Dot Quimby, an octogenarian who lives alone, watched as one team put foam insulation on pipes in her cellar, someone installed the glass panels in her storm door, an unused chimney was sealed and insulated, and caulking was used to stop air leaks around her windows and doors.
“How can I ever say thank you?” Quimby wondered as she watched them work. “This is so wonderful. I’ve lived here 53 years, and I didn’t even know that these little fixes could make such a difference.”
Peter Abello, one of the winterization team members and a Unity College alumnus, said the program is invaluable. “Look at our lives here,” he said. “In the winter in Maine, as we sit in our own houses, nice and warm, it is hard to think of others being cold.”
The event was sponsored by the Unity Barn Raisers as part of an even wider long-term program, Energizing Our Community.
Tess Woods, executive director of Unity Barn Raisers, said that coordinating the winterization program has been eye-opening.
“We know there are people living paycheck to paycheck in our community, but much of what we found [for repairs] were easy fixes,” she said. “There are small repairs and winterizations that make a huge difference in energy consumption.”
In some cases, however, Unity Barn Raisers’ assessment personnel — sent out to catalog each home’s needs before making repairs — found concerns that affected quality of life.
“We had one woman who purchased a home with her husband and five children as a fixer-upper,” Woods said. “Then he took off. These kids were already sleeping in their snowsuits. Can you imagine what that home would have been like in February?”
Woods said at another home, an empty window frame was found. “It was completely open — no glass, no plastic. Critters could come in and out,” she said.
Each homeowner was referred to Unity Barn Raisers by the town. Once an assessment was done, materials for each home were purchased through funds from UNITEL, Unity Barn Raisers, local individuals, an anonymous gift of $1,000 and a grant from United Way of Eastern Maine for an air loss detector.
At least $50 was spent on each home, and nine teams of three to five members winterized 18 homes Saturday.
“This is our short-term goal,” Woods said, “to get people through the winter.”
Unity Barn Raisers’ next goal is to look at Unity’s housing stock and come up with a plan on how best to spend money locally to increase home efficiencies. The long-term goal is to create an energy plan that could include wind farms and solar energy.
Prentice Grassi, a Unity vegetable farmer and carpenter, worked on the homes of two strangers Saturday. “I was just interested in lending a hand,” Grassi said. “It feels good to really make a difference.”