The best energy dollar ever spent is applied to weatherizing, or tightening up buildings so they can better hold heat. Cellulose in the attic, spray foam around the windows, caulking along the trim, Fiberglas between the floor joists, rigid foam outside the foundation, storm windows, a new door may not be as glamorous as granite counter tops, but it saves money. And every dollar worth of heat it saves on a cold December day will be multiplied winter month after winter month, year after year.
The $7 million Maine community action programs will receive — from a $120 million Department of Energy award to states — for ongoing weatherization efforts is the sort of federal investment that can make a real difference to people’s lives. Maine’s oldest-in-the-nation housing stock coupled with its cold winters and reliance on No. 2 heating oil as the fuel of choice creates ideal conditions for wasting energy dollars. Though the $7 million won’t save enough heat to turn an oil tanker away from our shores, it is the gift that keeps on giving.
The $7 million, which comes from the federal government’s stimulus package, will also help eligible families to pay for tankless hot water heaters (which save on electric, oil or gas bills) and to purchase home-scale wind turbines.
While the state’s regional community action programs have proved their ability to manage weatherization efforts, towns and cities would be wise to clamor for more funding. They also should help coordinate a more broad weatherization program, so that those who can afford to pay for materials might get the know-how to install insulation themselves. Even when someone can afford to live in a grand old home that is poorly insulated, their energy consumption hurts the rest of us, so weatherization shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a poverty relief program.
The next governor should continue to build on Gov. John Baldacci’s laudable efforts at improving the state’s home heating plight. The future in this realm is very much a moving target, so the state must be nimble in responding to trends. With wind power sources growing here, it may make sense to encourage some homeowners to use electric heat. Heat pumps, which have been developed and manufactured in Maine, may also emerge as a dominant technology. And of course pellet stoves remain a simple, effective way to keep the cold at bay.
But before big-ticket new technologies are supported with tax dollars, Maine must continue to tighten up. The 3,230 homes weatherized between January 2009 and June 2010 is an impressive start.