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Non-profit group aims to cut heat costs on the cheap with window inserts

Posted Dec. 16, 2012, at 7:29 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 16, 2012, at 7:58 p.m.

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BELFAST, Maine — Imagine a low-cost, efficient thermal insert that could easily be popped into a window frame and help homeowners lower their total fuel costs between 10 and 20 percent annually.

It might sound too good to be true — but that’s not the case, Frank Mundo of the new nonprofit organization WindowDressers said recently. His all-volunteer group makes, and teaches others to make, pine and polyolefin window inserts for a cost of between $12 and $15 per window. It also gives away one-third of all windows it makes to low-income families. Mundo compares the cost of the insert to $500, which is an estimate of the cost of replacing a single window.

“It takes 30 minutes to build a window insert. Everybody can do it,” he said. “It’s simple but effective. We think they’ll last 10 years.”

All last week, Mundo, who lives in Rockport, traveled to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, which hosted a “community build” of the window inserts. He and volunteers from the church and the community made about 300 of the inserts in the sanctuary, which took on a little of the festive air of a Christmas workshop. Music played in the loudspeakers while people attached a layer of polyolefin plastic on each side of the pine frames and then taped and used heat from a hair dryer to seal them in place. They then placed foam around the edge of the frames.

When the inserts are placed in the windows, they fit tightly — and keep the heat in, Mundo said.

“We would like to have a significant impact on the energy used in Maine for home heating,” he said of his non-profit agency, which was incorporated in August.

It was inspired by an effort that began three years ago to learn how the First Universalist Church in Rockland could reduce its fuel bill. Dick Cadwgan, a retired geologist, made the inserts for the church windows, which lowered the fuel bill by 25 percent that winter.

He and Mundo realized that the inserts could help others, too. They began to install them for church members and then expanded the project. They have done community builds in places including Liberty, Rockland, Islesboro and Peaks Island. Corliss Davis of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast said that she’s very glad to have the project come to her city.

“Our Green Sanctuary Committee got very excited,” she said. “Helping people be more comfortable and save money they badly need to save is a real plus for us.”

Over the last few months, they recruited 26 church families to take part in the project, with nine of them paying a minimal $10 fee for all the window inserts they would take home. Mundo and Cadwgan came in October to do laser measuring of all the windows — and also gave people a lot of good advice about their windows, Davis said.

For example, the solar gain lost from south-facing windows can be large enough to make it not worth the while to install inserts, she said.

They also recruited volunteers — including those who will receive inserts — to come in and put them together in the workshop.

“It’s fun. We’re very excited about this,” she said. “We would like, as a long-term goal, to set up a facility in Belfast to manufacture the inserts. We know other people want them.”

Mundo said the non-profit is now in talks with officials from Maine Prison Industries to have prisoners manufacture the inserts at a dedicated facility. If those talks pan out, it will greatly increase the number of inserts that can be built and installed in Maine. Over three years, he and others have built nearly 4,000 window inserts for Maine homes through WindowDressers. If Maine Prison Industries joins in, that number could grow to 40,000 per year.

It would save a lot of money on heating bills — and help the environment too, he said. If 1,000 window inserts were built each year, in a decade it would save over six million metric tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere, he said.

And Maine’s older stock of homes can easily absorb a lot of window inserts, Mundo said.

“Two hundred twenty five thousand of these could be built every year for the next 10 years before the market is saturated in Maine,” he said.

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