Buttoning up your house saves energy and money: proof from the midcoast

Posted May 28, 2011, at 1:39 p.m.
Al Heath performs a blower door test in March 2010 to gauge a house’s air tightness. Heath, a nurse practitioner and energy consultant, completed “green” restoration of a World War II-era duplex in Bath.
Troy R. Bennett|The Times Record
Al Heath performs a blower door test in March 2010 to gauge a house’s air tightness. Heath, a nurse practitioner and energy consultant, completed “green” restoration of a World War II-era duplex in Bath.

BATH, Maine — Last spring, former carpenter Al Heath decided to launch a deep energy retrofit on an old Bath home to see how energy efficient he could make the place.He spent $62,000 to acquire a one-story, 1,200-square-foot structure at 2 Office Drive. The home was built around World War II.Heath then set out to spend about $40,000 making it as energy efficient as possible, with hopes of cutting the home’s power and heat use by 75 percent.In late April 2010, The Times Record published a three-part series following Heath’s work, what steps he took and how much he spent to take them.Now, with a snowy winter of heating bills under his belt in the newly renovated home, Heath spoke Thursday to The Times Record to explain whether his project made financial sense in the end.“The goal was 75 percent [reduction in energy usage], and that was based on energy modeling, in which you build a theoretical model of how the house is insulated and how tight it is and predict how much the house will use in an average winter,” Heath said in a short telephone interview Thursday. “I ended up with 74 percent savings, equaling $3,100 [ess in heating and electricity bills than previous winters]. That’s based on $3.50 per gallon in heating oil. What if it was $5 a gallon or $6 a gallon? Those savings would be multiplied.”Heath, a nurse practitioner and part-time energy auditor, had 2 feet of fluffy cellulose insulation blown into the attic, added 2 inches of foam insulation and another dense dosage of blown-in insulation to the walls, installed a plasticlike moisture barrier to the floors and walls in the basement, and put in an air-to-air exchanger to keep fresh air cycling into the house, among other things.The changes were designed to prevent heat leaks, but to be cost effective in doing so.“I could have replaced the furnace and saved 5 percent [more energy], but it would have blown a quarter of my budget at $10,000 or $12,000,” Heath said. “My goal was to spend a limited amount of money on the things that mattered most.”So how did it work out? In previous winters, Heath estimates the house used 1,000 gallons of oil for heating. In the winter of 2010-11, he used 114 gallons of oil, plus another 1,900 pounds of wood.Put another way, the house in prior winters used 112 MBTU in energy for heating. In 2010-11, Heath’s 2 Office Drive home used 25.6 MBTU. For electricity, the home in previous cold seasons gobbled up 16.4 MBTU, but this past winter, it nibbled on 7.3 MBTU.Heath said the experiment was gratifying, and bolstered support for his belief that energy audits can help homeowners identify how to get the best bang for their bucks when considering energy efficiency projects.“People are often mistaken about what needs to be fixed and how to make their homes more efficient,” said Heath, whose website, www.coldclimatehome.com, includes a project synopsis and list of home improvement myths, among other energy tidbits. “It’s very helpful to have a third party come in, do an audit and come up with a prioritized list of what needs to be done.“Most homeowners can’t do as deep a renovation job as I did here, so it’s important that people know how to spend their money in order to make the biggest difference,” he continued. “Every house is unique, so to truly understand how the house is functioning or not functioning, that’s what the energy audit does. It tells you how to focus your efforts.”

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