Habitat/7 Rivers to continue weatherization initiative

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BATH — Habitat for Humanity/7 Rivers Maine is leading an effort this fall to boost the energy efficiency of 100 homes belonging to Mid-Coast residents.

The organization is accepting applications for its Step One Weatherization Program, for which low-income residents in Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties as well as Brunswick are eligible. The free service will take place in October and involve trained volunteers sealing air and infiltration around windows, doors and in walls, attics and basements, as well as providing as many as six interior storm windows.

The initiative is intended to facilitate long-term drops in fuel costs. It was created by Charlie Wing, an energy expert and Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained physicist, and kicked off last year in conjunction with United Way of Mid Coast Maine.

“We are going to teach the volunteers, as well as the homeowners, how to find and fix the many so-called ‘hidden heat leaks’ in their homes,” Wing said.

The average household is estimated to save $400 each year by focusing on the areas that contribute to as much as half a building’s heat loss.

Those interested in volunteering are asked to commit to one 4-hour training session and at least two home weatherizations that will take place Fridays and Saturdays in October and each run between two to four hours.

In order to be eligible for the program, homeowners and renters must earn less than 80 percent of the area’s median income. That amount varies depending on area and household size; for example, it’s less than $49,000 a year for a family of four in Sagadahoc County.

Community partners such as Habitat from more than 20 municipalities, businesses, schools, energy groups, churches and other non-profit organizations worked with United Way last year on its Winter Preparedness Action Program, applying Step One Weatherization to 76 homes. The target this year is 100 homes.

“Pretty early on we realized that this was something we were going to take on this year,” said Tara Hill, executive director of Habitat for Humanity/7 Rivers Maine. “And so we started to pay a lot of attention to what was going right and what was not working quite so well.”

Timing was one issue. The groups had to develop the program and, while they trained volunteers early on, they had trouble finding homes to assist.

“I think the word just wasn’t out there,” Hill said, adding that people did not understand the meaning of weatherization and how it could help them.

As a result, Habitat is working much earlier this year to spread information to the public and bring volunteers and potential homes on board. Training will take place next month.

Maine State Housing will fund construction of 2,000 interior storm windows of Wing’s design through the prison system for statewide initiatives, Hill said.

“We had volunteers doing it last year,” she explained. “It’s tedious, and it takes a while, so having the outsource is terrific.”

Wing pointed out during a weatherization workshop last month that while full-scale weatherization can be expensive, basic Step One weatherization can be significantly cheaper.

For example, an older, poorly maintained house with a 1,600-square-foot heated floor area and infiltration of one air change per hour would incur a fuel bill of $1,916, for 867 gallons of oil at $2.21 per gallon, Wing said. Sealing air leaks would reduce infiltration by 25 percent, dropping the $900 annual cost of that flow by $225.

Installing six new double-glazed storm windows would drop heat loss enough to produce $50 in annual savings. If the six windows are installed in a core warm area, producing an increased mean radiant temperature and allowing thermostats to turned down 2 degrees, a home could save $115 a year, Wing said.

Finally, replacement of existing lights with 13-watt compact fluorescent lamps would shrink the lighting bill by 34 kilowatt hours a year, a savings of $37.

Combined, the savings on one home each year would be $427, according to Wing’s figures. Area agencies turned an investment of $8,800 into nearly $33,000 in annual energy savings.

“It’s really doable for 100 houses, just in our area,” Hill said.

“It isn’t just a season we’re talking about, and that’s why it’s a very good program,” said volunteer Margaret Wilson. “A lot of the state programs previously really looked at just tightening up a house with plastic sheathing … just for a winter. This is really going quite a lot beyond that, which is pretty key.”

While mobile homes are not eligible this year, a separate program to facilitate them is in the works.

“We tried to do it last year,” Hill said. “This wasn’t a program that was applicable to mobile homes because they’re so unique in the way they’re built.”

Contact the Habitat office at 386-5081 or amanda@habitat7rivers.org to sign up for the program or obtain more information. While Habitat and 7 Rivers have partnered to offer affordable housing to the Mid-Coast community, the organization’s programs also include home repairs and traditional new construction, as well as the ReStore, a discount building supply store that is open to the Bath public.

“Habitat is changing and looking to meet the needs of Maine families who are living in substandard housing,” Hill said. “And that’s not just families who need a new home, but those who have their own homes that need some help that we’re hoping to provide.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.