PITTSFIELD, Maine — Ray Berthelette is one of those guys who’s always looking around his home for a way to save a dime.

To heat the swimming pool, he built a solar-powered system. To save on the cost of heating water, he installed electric water heaters but built the system so he could switch back to oil if electric rates go too high. Now he’s looking at his attached greenhouse and thinking about how to pull the significant heat it produces, even in the winter, into his house.

“I like to tinker around the house a lot,” he said. “It’s one project after another.”

Armed with ideas and seeking knowledge, Berthelette was one of more than 70 people, according to organizers, who attended a business and energy forum hosted by the town of Pittsfield on Tuesday evening. He left with a deep stack of brochures and a growing list of projects that will save him even more energy.

One of the ideas he picked up was combining the solar system that heats the pool with his drinking water system. He even has thought about installing a windmill in the yard, but sometimes cost rules out an idea.

“I found out that windmills are very expensive,” he said. “But I’ve got some new ideas about solar panels.”

Berthelette is just the kind of guy town officials had in mind in conceiving the town’s latest forum on business and energy, which was held at Warsaw Middle School.

“This is the biggest one so far,” said Mayor Tim Nichols. “There’s a lot of information collected in this room. A lot of people came for a specific purpose and then left with the information they needed.”

By the end of the evening, when keynote speaker Ashley Richards of Warm Tech Solutions in Yarmouth took the microphone, the crowd had dwindled to a couple dozen. Richards, whose firm specializes in making homes and businesses more energy-efficient, said there’s a foolproof way to know if your attic or basement leaks heat: cobwebs.

“If there are cobwebs, there is moving air,” said Richards, who estimated that in an average home, 53 percent of the heat loss comes from air moving in from the outside, moving upwards as it warms and then flowing out again. By comparison, inefficient windows and doors might account for about 15 percent of a typical home’s heat loss.

“Windows and doors are tremendously expensive,” said Richards. “Focus on the low-hanging fruit first.”

Among the tips offered by Richards were insulating around pipes and wires where they enter attics and basements, sealing the crack between the house and its foundation, making sure attics are vented properly so they don’t allow wind to blow through, and insulating doors or passageways that lead to attics or bulkheads.

Mayor Tim Nichols said Pittsfield holds events such as Tuesday’s forum because the town believes in educating its residents so they have the knowledge to improve their own lives. That message is especially important for people who go through each winter shivering because they can’t afford to turn up the heat or because their heating system can’t keep up with a home’s poor insulation.

“We don’t want to see that happen to anyone in this town,” he said. “The bottom line is that we need to look out for ourselves in Maine. We can’t expect the folks in Augusta or Washington to solve everything.”

Participants also chatted with representatives from several business support organizations. Dan Dyer of Corinna came to the forum because he is in the process of launching a cleaning business called At Your Service Cleaning. In addition to business start-up tips, Dyer picked up some fresh ideas from representatives of Melaleuka, a firm that sells natural and nontoxic cleaning and personal beauty products.

“It’s something everyone is looking for, that 100 percent chemical-free cleaning product,” Dyer said.

Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said she was pleased with the turnout and hoped some of the participants would take action with their new knowledge.

“You would spend a lot of time gathering the information that’s available in this one room,” Ruth said. “If someone came here and couldn’t pick up a new tip, I’d be astonished.”

But for those who missed it, Ruth said, many of the brochures and information packets offered at the event will be available at the town office until they run out.


Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.