The last census reports that the state of Maine has the oldest housing stock in the country, the oldest population and the lowest household income in New England.

We heat our homes with oil, which is the most expensive fuel, and use more gallons per capita than any other state. Maine is the fifth-most expensive state in the country for heating our homes behind Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming and Minnesota, whose winters are colder and longer. We also use a higher percentage of our income to stay warm.

Mainers are very good at toughing out the long, cold winters. We know how to tolerate discomfort to save money, to have enough money to buy our prescriptions or to feed our families. But what if we could make our homes more comfortable, improve air quality and reduce our heating cost by as much as 50 percent?

Four years ago, Waterville and Winslow, in partnership with Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, participated in a pilot Efficiency Maine Trust program that provided no-cost, one-on-one consultations to help people increase home comfort, improve air quality and reduce costs. More than 345 households participated in SMMC’s Residential Energy Program, which saved our residents an estimated 97,000 gallons of fuel oil per year. Total savings varied, but, on average, residents saved 283 gallons of fuel oil each year. At $4 a gallon, that is more than $1,100 saved annually.

The savings started with a free in-home consultation for the house, which had to be in either Waterville or Winslow. The only other qualification is that the homeowner was not receiving energy assistance, since those homes were covered by other programs. The consultant spent time with the homeowner gathering information, including the way the home was heated, the condition of the heating equipment, how much fuel they used over the past several years, how many people lived in the home and the presence of cold spots within the home.

The consultant walked through the home from the basement to the attic looking for indications of outside air penetration, moisture and mold issues, the condition of the windows, which seldom need to be replaced, and, finally, into the attic to see what type and amount of insulation was there.

We looked at the doors and the exterior of the home. At the end of the inspection, we discussed with the homeowner what could be done with their home and what resources would be needed to accomplish their goals. The consultant guided homeowners through a variety of Efficiency Maine Trust rebates to reduce the cost of their investment. We talked about the important role of a certified home energy auditor and whether it was advisable to engage one.

The reason we believe that the home energy consultation approach worked was because the consultant wasn’t selling anything: We were only looking after the best interest of the homeowner. The consultant’s job was to help homeowners take the first steps toward energy efficiency by taking some of the uncertainty out of the process. The owner answered the following questions:

• What is the potential savings I might get from an investment in my home?

• If I need an energy audit to get a rebate, who are the energy auditors in the area?

• Who are the qualified contractors who could make these improvements?

• How will I finance the investment?

• What Efficiency Maine Trust incentives might help me reduce the investment?

In April, Efficiency Maine Trust awarded a new grant to Waterville, Winslow and now Fairfield, again in partnership with Sustain Mid Maine Coalition. This grant creates a long-term sustainable program based on developing a cadre of trained volunteer home-energy consultants. Our first class of consultants completed the first phase of their training at Kennebec Valley Community College and already are visiting homes.

In several days of training, we learned that what we once considered “good” home construction is just plain leaky. Best of all, we have shown that we can really do something about it.

We continue to train more volunteers to help improve the condition of the more than 12,000 housing units in these three communities. Give someone at Sustain Mid Maine Coalition a call (680-4216) or email [email protected] We will pair up callers with a home energy consultant at no cost.

John Reuthe is a home energy program evaluator and a residential energy program manager. He has been the director of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Home Energy Program since 2010.

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