Free home inspections help homeowners find heat savings

Posted Nov. 10, 2011, at 5:12 p.m.
Nancy Glassman pries an attic door out of a nest of insulation. Glassman was giving a free energy audit of a home as part of the new Green Sneakers project in the midcoast.
Nancy Glassman pries an attic door out of a nest of insulation. Glassman was giving a free energy audit of a home as part of the new Green Sneakers project in the midcoast. Buy Photo
Sally Perkins (left) and Nancy Glassman look over paperwork about how to make a home more energy-efficient. Perkins received a free energy audit in her Warren home on Wednesday.
Sally Perkins (left) and Nancy Glassman look over paperwork about how to make a home more energy-efficient. Perkins received a free energy audit in her Warren home on Wednesday. Buy Photo

WARREN, Maine — Sally Perkins has made little adjustments to keep her house warm since she bought the three-bedroom cape in 2006. She made special cellophane-like window inserts. She had her attic door sealed with thick insulation. She shuts off the heat in two of the bedrooms each winter. For extra savings, she wears a sweater and keeps the thermostat at a goosebump-inducing 64 degrees.

By making those little changes she saved more than 150 gallons of oil from 2006 to last year. She used to buy 570 gallons of oil per winter, and now buys 416. But this winter she was left wondering, what else can I do?

Perkins works two jobs to make ends meet and would like to save more money on her heating bill, so she called in the Green Sneakers Project to help.

Green Sneakers is a pilot program operated under the nonprofit Maine chapter of the Sierra Club. This year is the first time the group has sent trained volunteers to homes that request energy audits. During these free home inspections, the volunteer points out where there might be inefficiencies in the home. The program hopes to do at least 60 audits this year in the midcoast area.

The volunteer energy auditors will point out where there might be places to save energy, but hesitate to tell homeowners how to go about fixing their home. That’s for professionals, according to Nancy Glassman, 60, of Searsmont, who works for Green Sneakers.

Glassman conducted an audit of Perkins’ house Wednesday night.

“I wouldn’t mind being warmer,” Perkins, 57, of Warren, told Glassman. “The money I make from my job goes to my gas and oil. The price of oil just goes up and up and up.”

The audit began with Perkins giving Glassman a tour of her home and pointing out some problem areas she was already aware of.

“You see right there — there is a gap right there in the window,” Perkins said, while squinting and pointing at the window above her kitchen sink. “I just pushed towels in there last winter.”

Glassman suggested making more use of insulating inserts for the windows, as Perkins had done elsewhere in the home. The inserts are made of wood and stretchy plastic. They look like window-shaped presents adorned in clear wrapping paper. She shoves the inserts into the window and they create more of a buffer for the heat to try to pass through, but they are clear enough that she can see the trees in her yard.

As the women headed downstairs to Perkins’ basement, they tried not to trip over her two large cats. In the basement, they were met by a 20-year-old furnace connected to pipes shooting up to the ceiling. Some of the pipes were wrapped in dark insulation. Glassman said wrapping the pipes is good and keeps hot water hot on its way to her living space. But what about those bare pipes, Glassman asked Perkins.

“It looks like they should all be insulated,” Perkins said.

“You got it.”

Glassman explained that she can pick up more of the insulation at a hardware store for a few bucks.

“It’s a long, fussy, annoying job, but you can do it throughout the winter,” Glassman said.

“I’ll take all the savings I can get,” Perkins said.

On the way back up the basement stairs, Glassman pointed out some missing insulation between the joists of the floor above. Perkins said she could fix that problem right away with extra fiberglass insulation she has stored away.

The ladies then went upstairs to Perkins’ bedroom. At each window, Glassman stopped and checked for any draftiness.

Glassman also noticed the entry to the attic in Perkins’ closet and asked for a stepladder. In minutes, Glassman looked like an older Nancy Drew, flashlight in hand, investigating the attic — her head disappearing through the hole, the rest of her body still jutting out into the closet.

There is some missing insulation, she said in a voice muffled by the ceiling. Also, the area around the chimney is not insulated, she said. Both of these deficiencies could cause expensive heat to leak out of the home.

“If you have gaps in your insulation it’s like putting on a sweater and not buttoning it,” Glassman explained. “If the gap is big, it’s like putting a sweater on a chair and wondering why you’re not warm.”

The tour took about an hour. Then the two sat at Perkins’ kitchen table with a packet of information Glassman brought along. One chart in the packet showed different investments Perkins could make and how much money they might or might not save her over time. Another chart showed that in the course of 10 years, if gas prices remain as they are today, Perkins will spend about $12,000 for heating oil.

“You’re spending the money either way. It’s your choice if you want it to be on oil or for energy efficiency,” Glassman said.

Lastly, Glassman gave her a do-it-yourself guide. This might be particularly helpful to Perkins, who wants to do some work this winter. She plans to make more window insulators, insulate her electric outlets and insulate the pipes running from her furnace.

“I can do all that myself for not much money,” Perkins said.

For more information visit coolmaine.org.

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