Pat yourself on the back if you are one of those who helped Maine reduce its heating oil use by 45 percent between 2004 and 2009. And kick yourself if you are not.
Energy independence starts with you and me. Emphasis on you, because Linda and I did our part in 2008.
We started with an energy audit. The Franklin County Community Action Program sent an exceptionally knowledgeable guy to our 200-year-old home in Mount Vernon to perform the audit. The basic audit cost only $150 and I opted for the complete written report with recommendations for an additional $100.
It’s foolish to spend thousands on energy conservation in your home without the guidance of an audit.
When Randy Burgess fit the blower into my front door, turned it on, and aimed his video camera around the room, I was astonished to learn that we had been heating all of Mount Vernon! Air infiltrated around every door and even poured in through the electrical vents.
The best thing about the audit is that Randy prioritized our conservation needs so we could spend our money wisely, focusing first on those that would do the most for us.
Here’s what we opted to do.
We foamed the basement. One end of our house sits on granite blocks and rocks. Despite my best efforts to bank the house in the winter, wind whipped up through the living room floor and wild critters often spent time in the crawl space. Trust me, you don’t want mating raccoons under your bedroom floor.
Dixfield Foam Insulation covered our basement walls with spray foam insulation, a water-based product. It’s more expensive than fiberglass but has many advantages. Food used to freeze down there. Now the space is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
About a month later, F&E Builders of Phillips arrived to blow cellulose into our walls and under the upstairs floors. We decided to close off the upstairs during the winter and shrink our living quarters to the first floor. This involved draining a bathroom and shutting off one heating zone.
Live small, that’s our new motto.
We removed a charming but inefficient Franklin stove in the living room and replaced it with a Vermont Castings stove from Rocky’s Stove Shop in Augusta. The stove is very efficient and good for the environment too, double-burning the gases.
We use the stove every evening from mid-November to mid-April and burn only about two cords of wood.
Over time, we’ve gotten used to cooler temperatures. We start sweltering now if the temp gets much above 70 degrees.
One of the best outcomes of all this conservation work is that we had to clean out the attic and basement of “good stuff” that had accumulated there since our arrival in 1979. Six trailer loads went to the dump after we asked the question a hundred times, “Why on earth did we keep this thing?”
We also, over a three-year period, replaced most of our windows and a couple of doors with the help of Hammond Lumber. This was the most expensive part of our conservation project, mostly because we desired new windows that exactly matched our historic old 9-over-6 windows.
But here’s the good news. We reduced our annual oil consumption from 1,500 gallons to 500 gallons, a 67 percent reduction. At $3.50 per gallon, we got all of our investment back in a few years and the savings continue year after year.
I applaud Gov. Paul LePage’s goal of reducing our state’s use of oil by 50 percent by 2014. But forgive us for being skeptical. Then-Gov. Joe Brennan set the same goal in 1979.
LePage is counting on natural gas and wood to reach his goal, but that’s a two-legged stool. The third leg must be conservation. It’s actually the easiest and cheapest way to get there.
The convenience of oil can’t be denied. It’ll be a major source of energy in Maine for a long, long time. But we can use less of it. We must. Because Maine is still more dependent on oil than any other state.
But today, let’s feel good that the typical Maine home burns 850 gallons of oil, down from 1,000 gallons 10 years ago.
Working up some wood this past weekend, I was giddy. Not only is it enjoyable work, but I feel positively patriotic.
If you aren’t yet doing your part to reduce our dependence on oil, what’s holding you up?
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.