Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Home energy audit….Ponzi scheme?

December 13, 2011

“Conservation is just another word for a Ponzi scheme in many respects. What I mean by that, is it is not that conservation is bad, conservation is very, very good if you do it properly.”  This is a quote from Maine Governor Paul LePage from the Bangor daily News last week.  

The Governor, in the article, is critical of the home energy audits process required by Efficiency Maine since, as he suggests, “If they are recommending $15,000 in improvements and a person can’t make that much of an investment, it is all a waste,” he said. “That’s where the policy is not working and we are going to work on that.”

I think it is throwing out the baby with the bath water to say that a homeowner can’t afford to fix everything in a home all at once then the audit was a waste.   In Maine as everywhere else, a good audit maps out short and long term solutions to save homeowners money, increase their comfort at home, and reduce our dependence on heating oil with increased efficiency.  The audit should be your roadmap to a safer, more comfortable, and more energy-efficient home.   

Of course, the right audit needs to be accurate and actionable.  The audit needs to look at the whole house to determine the specific energy upgrades that make the most sense for your particular house.  And it needs to be specific enough so that you can get the work done, but it is the work that improves your house, not the assessment.  We can agree with the governor on that point.

Certified, established contractors, performing energy audits and even more important, performing the work needed to fix the problems, are what we need in every state.  We ask doctors to be certified, drivers to be licensed; it is for the public good and our safety.   Homes are often the most significant investment people have, and issues left unchecked affect the occupant’s health and safety, heating systems and indoor air quality issues, all part of an energy audit…and we haven’t talked about air sealing and insulation yet!  

Shortcuts don’t work well, and can create their own problems.  Wrapping the “state in pink” suggesting insulation for everyone is in the right spirit, but the wrong approach in most homes, unless we find and seal air-leaks first, for example.   Air sealing without insulation is not only a waste of insulation, all that good “pink” will only act as a filter as all the heating dollars pass through it.  The slogan for fixing homes should not be get r’ done, but do it right the first time.  The right audit points the way.

Homes are complex and often times so are the solutions.  Ponzi scheme?  I think not.  Investing in energy efficiency is no simple task and any good investor begins with informing themselves of the risks and benefits or else looses their shirt rather quickly.  The right audit makes sense.



Breaking the dependence on oil

November 15, 2011

Maine Governor Paul LePage has recently called for a 50% reduction in the use of oil for heating in the state.   Maine is a heavy user when it comes to heating oil.  80% of our homes here are oil heated.  To cut that useage in half by 2014 is an ambitious goal, for sure.  LePage suggests doing this by switching to natural gas and wood pellets. 

There are efforts to move towards natural gas in the state, and I encourage it.  It won’t be fast, however.  While the distribution system is slowly growing, it is not there now.  As for pellets, they are readily available, but if demand for them increases so might cost.   Furthermore, most residential wood burning systems require the user to be hands on.  The pellets don’t fill the stove themselves, and the ashes don’t empty themselves.   This is the same reason why 80% heat with oil instead of wood, also abundant in the Pine Tree state.

What is missing in this discussion is our dependence on BTU’s.  In other words, the focus should be on energy use, first, not fuel source.   Switching fuels doesn’t solve the problem of inefficient leaky homes heating the great outdoors.  It’s like an addict going from one fix to another because it’s cheaper, and they can get more for less.   Fuel switching is treating the symptom and not the problem. 

Weatherization efforts, increased efficiencies of heating equipment, and fuel switching when it makes sense, can have a much greater impact, and a much lower long term cost, than fuel switching alone. Efficiency Maine and the many contractors who have worked with these programs have been chipping away at this.  Tux Turkel from the Maine Sunday telegram reported recently, “Maine residents slashed their heating oil use by 45% between 2004 and 2009.”  We routinely save people that much off of their oil bills.  Governor, we can do this, but let’s treat the real problem and break our dependence on wasteful heating.   

Photo by David L Ryan

Heating Oil Prices Higher—Insulate Yourself from High Heating Bills.

September 21, 2011

Nights are getting cooler.  Heating season is on the way.  And folks across the Northeast and Upper Midwest who heat their homes with oil are facing significantly—painfully—higher prices this winter.

For example, according to NYSERDA prices for fuel oil in the state average $3.83 per gallon, a 33% increase over last year.  In Maine, we see comparable prices.   And the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts the national average to rise further in October.

An 80 cent per gallon increase translates to an additional $800 dollars in heating costs for a home that burns 1,000 gallons per year.  That’s a real dent in the family finances.

EIA Factors that Affect Oil PricesThis highlights the risk in play home heating oil roulette.  There’s huge volatility and uncertainty from unrest in the Middle East, natural disasters like hurricanes, market forces in India and China, or many more factors.  

Homeowners are not helpless, though.  You can make choices.  You can’t control world energy prices.  But you can make your home more efficient so that the price hikes don’t hobble you.

You know how.  Start with a good assessment.  Seal the leaks in your home and ducts.  Improve your insulation.  And look at more efficient equipment, windows, lighting, etc.  We can help you figure out what makes the most sense for you and your home and tailor your project to take advantage of state and utility rebate and incentive programs.  But you’ve got to pick up the phone and start the ball rolling.  Or pick up your checkbook and send another payment to your fuel company or utility for the money you’re wasting.

One ton of Ice

August 4, 2011

It was 1911 when The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles had installed air conditioning truly bringing the concept of keeping comfortably cool to the masses.  Ten years earlier Willis Carrier had started work in Buffalo, New York, a city not too far from our Greenhomes America office in Syracuse.   His trial and error over the years focused on dehumidification and it was in 1907 that the Carrier Air conditioning company was established.

What did folks do before that?  Looking back at a late 1800’s trade journal “Ice and Refrigeration” reveals a lot.    The journal is packed with beautiful advertising for coils and pumps and innovative patents for cooling systems ads for insulation like cork and mineral wool and insulating paper whatever that may be.  It also holds reports of what industry in need of cooling relied on every year:  Ice Harvests.

The Hudson River crop in 1890 was around “4,000,000 tons of which New York, Brooklyn and Jersey City will use 1,200000 tons or more if the summer proves a hot one”.  Ice harvest happened in many places, a number of rivers in Maine were used and the ice was then stored near shipyards to be distributed later.

There’s a connection to today we might not think of:  The size of our air conditioners.  From the beginning these cooling machines capacities were described by an equivalent amount of ice that would melt in a day.   A window unit might be less than a 1 ton system where central air can range from 2 to 5 tons. 

How much do you need?   Think of keeping food in a cooler for a long trip to the beach or a weekend camping.  As that block of ice melts it keeps things cool in there.    The more we open it up the more we lose that cooling.  The less insulated or efficient the cooler is the faster it melts.  Same goes for our houses.  We don’t think of running out of ice anymore because we’ve found a way for air conditioner to provide endless cooling, as long as we pay the bill.

The GreenHomes Partners I visited recently really know cooling.  Just as important they understand how to keep the cool in your home as well with air-sealing and insulation so you can get by starting out with a smaller block of ice!      

 Image from wikimedia commons

Maine offers “PACE” loans for home energy upgrades

May 16, 2011

Good news for Mainers.  Efficiency Maine’s PACE loan program is up and running to help homeowners finance energy efficient upgrades to their homes. The PACE loans [same name, but a totally different approach than the PACE program squashed by FHFA late last year] are subsidized and offered at low-percentage rates.  The is great news with the high energy prices we’re seeing—most Maine homes are heated with oil—and the old housing stock in the state. 

For more information and to find out if you qualify, Contact Efficiency Maine today to see if you qualify.  And if you live near or between Portland or Lewiston/Auburn, call GreenHomes’ partner, Thayer Corp, at 800-649-4197 (or 207-782-4197) to schedule a home assessment and get the ball rolling.

GreenHomes America Welcomes Maine, Long Island, and Virginia to the party!

January 26, 2011

We’re delighted to announce new GreenHomes locations in Maine, Long Island, and Southeastern Virginia.

Joining the GreenHomes family are:

  • Thayer Corporation  A GreenHomes America PartnerThayer Corporation serving Maine from the Portland area through Lewiston Auburn.  Founded in 1981, and led by Dan Thayer, Thayer Corp is one of the largest and most successful HVAC companies in Maine.
  • Master Mechanical Plumbing and HeatingMaster Mechanical, based in Farmingdale, NY, has been providing Long Islanders with a full-range of HVAC services since 1995.  Principal Jamie Bonifazio is leading the charge to add comprehensive home performance solutions to their mix.
  • Energy Efficient Solutions, A GreenHomes America partnerEnergy Efficient Solutions began in 2001 under the leadership of Chuck Worley and provides services from Richmond through the Hampton Roads pennisula down to Virginia Beach.  Joining Chuck’s team is well-know expert Ray Walsh who’s trained contractors and energy raters throughout Virgnia and the mid-Altantic.

We’re absolutely thrilled to have three great companies join GreenHomes, and it’s exciting that they are all already on the street delivering comprehensive home performance solutions.  You can read more about these new additions or find our other locations on the GreenHomes website.

Stay tuned–there are additional locations on the way soon!


It’s official–Monday was COLD!!

January 25, 2011

Monday’s temperatures in the Northeast with numbing.  In some places, the mercury droped so low it almost disappeared.  Why the temperature was so low it could sit on a dime and dangle its feet.  The temp was so low it could crawl under the belly of a snake–although the snake would have been frozen solid in this case.   Here’s a sampling of locations where they probably didn’t go through a lot of ice cream yesterday:

  • -36  Saranac Lake, NY
  • -35  North Troy, VT
  • -28 Fryeburg, ME
  • -20 Burlington, VT  (as measured on my back porch)
  • -13  Syracuse, NY
  • and a relatively mild -1 in Providence, R.I.

Syracuse is on a pace that might challenge a couple records for snowfall–already 111 inches this year–and cold.  And folks in the Northeast, brace yourselves.  Although it’s warming up into the 20s and 30s, there are forecasts pointing to more subzero weather this weekend.

Stay warm and safe.

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