UNITY, Maine — Thanks to a hefty federal grant, almost 50 households in Unity have been able to get energy audits and also have $500 worth of weatherization work done on their homes.
The participants include Darcy Milliard, whose 1820 colonial has felt a lot warmer and less drafty since it was weatherproofed and tightened up in January.
“I can tell the difference,” Milliard said Monday.
Back in August of 2010, the town received $82,500 in federal Recovery Act funds for energy efficiency work. Although program officials said that residents were a little slow to warm up to the process initially, in recent months many, such as Milliard, have taken advantage of the expertise and financial help available for making their homes more efficient.
The monies almost all have been spent or spoken for, according to Amanda Jamison, Unity coordinator for the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. In Maine, the federal money is administered through Efficiency Maine.
“It was a great grant,” she said. “I think it’s meant more money staying in the local economy, rather than going to pay for fuel oil.”
According to Doug Fox, the chairman of the Unity Energy Committee, those who have taken part in the program are saving an average of $900 per year on heating bills.
The town’s experience with working to make its 600 homes more efficient began in 2007, when skyrocketing fuel prices spurred a group of volunteers to start helping their neighbors get weatherized.
“Unity residents were calling in, saying ‘We’re not sure how to get through the winter,’” Jamison, who also works for the nonprofit Unity Barn Raisers, recalled.
The volunteers also began educating residents about safety issues such as making sure chimneys were cleaned out properly.
“The volunteers had a proven track record,” Jamison said.
When Efficiency Maine called for grant applicants, it seemed like a good fit for Unity, she said. So far, about 40 homes, five multi-unit buildings and eight businesses have taken part in the program.
Participants must hire a contractor from a list of qualified professionals, she said. Then, the contractor will check to see how leaky the property actually is. Three houses have been too airtight for more winterizing, Jamison said. It would have been dangerous in terms of air quality. But the rest did show spots where warm air was escaping into the cold outside.
To do this, the contractor uses a blower door test to depressurize the home and show where cold air is leaking in through gaps and cracks.
The contractor then helps to put spray foam in those cracks, adds caulking around doors, windows and sills and more, she said.
“Each of them adds up,” Jamison said. “Investing $200 to $500 saves you the greatest amount in [efficiency] gains.”
In addition to more homes becoming airtight and warmer thanks to the grant program, another benefit has been the fact that many in Unity now know a lot about energy efficiency, according to Fox.
“It’s been such an eye-opener to people. We have lots of testimonials in town,” he said. “Now, the message is being spread by word of mouth. Before, nobody knew what air sealing was, or what a blower door was. Now, it’s a common conversation in the hardware store. It really is.”
Although the grant is close to being all used up, the town is still looking for a few more households to participate. Milliard said she has been recommending it to her friends.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I just think we’d be better off to do things like this to people’s houses than to put up plastic every year.”