Program helps train volunteers in proper home weatherization

Charlie Wing of West Bath, a retired physics professor and expert on energy conservation, trains a class of volunteers who will weatherize homes in Somerset County. The day-long class, one of numerous such trainings occurring in Maine for the next few weeks, took place at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Skowhegan office on Sunday, December 13, 2009.  Bangor Daily News photo by Christopher Cousins
Charlie Wing of West Bath, a retired physics professor and expert on energy conservation, trains a class of volunteers who will weatherize homes in Somerset County. The day-long class, one of numerous such trainings occurring in Maine for the next few weeks, took place at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Skowhegan office on Sunday, December 13, 2009. Bangor Daily News photo by Christopher Cousins
Posted Dec. 13, 2009, at 8:40 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A monumental task such as weatherizing all the homes in Maine within 20 years is best accomplished in laboriously planned increments.

That doesn’t mean no fun can be had along the way: Watching a renowned physics professor dance around like a water molecule expending energy qualifies as fun along the way.

Meet Charlie Wing, retired Bowdoin College physics professor and author of 30 books about building. The title of Saturday’s seminar, “How Heat In Homes Moves, an Illustrated Guide,” started with Wing’s body as an oxygen atom and his two fists curled near his shoulders, hydrogen.

“I bet you never dreamed you’d get a physics lesson today,” he said to about a dozen men and women who will perform home weatherizations as part of a multiagency effort. Wing’s lesson about how heat moves at the atomic level progressed in the course of the four-hour class to how heat moves within a home and, more importantly, how it escapes.

Wing, co-founder of the Shelter Institute in Woolwich, which for more than 30 years has taught hundreds of people how to build energy efficient homes, said some 80 percent of Maine’s homes were built before energy-saving building standards were adopted in the 1970s. Each of those homes wastes an estimated 50 percent of its energy — a number that can be knocked in half for an investment of less than $100, according to Wing. In most cases, the project will pay for itself four times over within a year.

“That’s 400 percent interest on your investment,” said Wing.

For homeowners who qualify if they meet the requirements of the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and who stand to benefit from the volunteers trained Saturday, the project will cost nothing.

The program, called Keep ME Warm, employs volunteers to inspect homes for places where heat escapes and to plug the holes through a variety of methods, such as installing interior storm windows that prisoners in the Maine Department of Corrections’ woodworking program build.

Wing said Keep ME Warm focuses on permanent fixes that will benefit residents for years as opposed to temporary winterization efforts.

Despite the attractiveness of the program, organizers said one challenge they’re facing is finding homes to weatherize. Carol Dyar-Eaton, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who works through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Somerset County office, said she has team leaders set up in all 33 Somerset County towns.

“We’re well-positioned in the communities,” said Dyar-Eaton. Those team leaders await trained volunteers and lists of homes to weatherize.

Kathy Hopkins, an educator with the Cooperative Extension, said many of the volunteers come from municipal committees and community organizations, but single volunteers are also welcome. Part of the success is due to all the agencies working on the program, said Hopkins. They include the Maine State Housing Authority, Efficiency Maine, the United Way, the Department of Health and Human Services and Habitat for Humanity.

To volunteer for the program or to apply for home weatherization, dial 211, which connects Mainers to a variety of social service agencies. Hopkins said training sessions are scheduled for the next several weeks.

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