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Peaks Island homeowners warm up to weatherization program

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Peaks Island homeowners warm up to weatherization program

PORTLAND — While memories of this winter are receding, Peaks Island residents are gearing up for the next one through a program that may create warmer, more energy-efficient homes for 20 percent of island households.

As many as 100 of the island's 500 year-round homes and cottages will be expertly weatherized at low cost, thanks to funding from the Efficiency Maine energy trust and a collaboration between the Peaks Environmental Action Team and the Island Institute, a nonprofit environmental group.

Already, 43 homes have been weatherized, and another 29 are scheduled to be done soon. The organizers say they can handle another couple dozen or so.

The institute has organized similar "weatherization weeks" on islands with smaller populations, but had no idea what the response from homeowners would be when the campaign came to Peaks last month.

A handful of residents initially expressed interest, but soon word spread, according to Maggie Small, a fellow at the institute who works with PEAT and lives on the island. The weatherization will probably continue until early May.

"Now our goal is doing 100 homes," she said Monday. "That's huge for anything on the island."

The weatherization work includes a high-tech audit to identify where and how much heat is escaping a house, performed by a crew from The Heat Doctor, a Portland-based energy efficiency contractor. The crew then caulks windows, patches insulation, weatherstrips doors, and generally tries to plug as many leaks as they can find in two hours.

Then it's on to the next house. But each resident is left with a list of recommended steps they can follow to make their homes even more weather tight, said The Heat Doctor's Mark Poirier.

"We can't get to all the leaks, but a lot of times there are other things a homeowner can do on their own," he said. "This program starts the ball rolling."

Energy efficiency is a critical issue for residents of Peaks and other Maine islands. While island homes may seem like idyllic vacation spots in the summer, they can be costly to heat in the off-season.

Islands often bear the brunt of nor'easters and winter winds. And because of the logistics involved in transporting fuel, residents pay a premium for heat. For example, heating oil on Peaks typically costs $4.80 a gallon, according to PEAT – about $1 more than on the mainland.

The same logistics make it difficult for island residents to get help reducing those costs. Energy efficiency contractors often charge more when they must travel by ferry, or may be unwilling to make the trip at all.

The weatherization campaign gets around that challenge by "doing it in bulk," said Suzanne MacDonald, the institute's community energy director. The contractor is promised multiple jobs, and the Efficiency Maine funds makes the work affordable for residents.

As a result, each of the participating homes on Peaks receives about $725 of services, but homeowners only pay $125. That cost is usually recovered in the first heating season.

"We really think of this as a community-based approach," MacDonald said.

Jan Thomas, who lives in a two-bedroom cottage on Elizabeth Street, said she is "thrilled" by the weatherization help.

"All of my doors have been re-weatherized, as well as the basement, and the attic," she said. "I have a bathroom that was supposedly insulated, but would freeze up, and (The Heat Doctor crew) spent a lot of time working on that.

"I was thinking about weatherization for a long time, but not necessarily thinking about the right things. And in these economic times, the cost to a homeowner is a big deal."

Next door, the home of PEAT Board Member Sam Saltonstall was also recently weatherized through the program.

"I've noticed the difference. I have a favorite place where I like to read, but it was always a little drafty. Now it's not," Saltonstall said. "I thought my home was in pretty good shape, but apparently there were a lot of leaks."

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.