If you’ve recently weatherized your house, you know that to get a rebate from Efficiency Maine, the work must pass inspection first. An auditor, typically brought in by your contractor, comes to check the work and signs off your rebate application. But Efficiency Maine also follows up, inspecting the inspector as it were. That’s Jon Hill’s job description. We called him up to talk weatherization, checks and balances and, to our surprise, bees and blueberry farming.

RESUME: Jon Hill has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maine. He grew up in Brunswick, where his family owned almost all of the blueberry fields in town – they still own almost 100 acres – but he lives in Winslow now, drawn there by a job with Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

JOHNNY APPLESEEDS: “Years ago, I was looking for something interesting to do and a friend of mine worked at Johnny’s. A position came up to handle the tools and supplies, with some development involved on the tool side.” That was around 2003, he thinks, and he stayed with Johnny’s “through four catalog cycles.”

From there, he started doing energy audits as an independent contractor (as opposed to a weatherizing company that provides the energy audit and then does the work they’ve suggested; many see the potential for conflict in an arrangement where the adviser is also essentially the salesperson).

A NUDGE: Now he works for Efficiency Maine, as a subcontractor, managing the technical inspections. He or one of his colleagues might turn up at the door to provide one last look at the work after the rebate application has been received. “It is just a way of keeping an eye on things, making sure that things are meeting our program guidelines.” What happens if they see something that hasn’t been done right? “If it’s not best practice, we share that with the contractor. Give them a nudge in the right direction.”

A WIND IN THE DOOR: If the homeowner wants it, they’ll set up the blower door – the primary test to gauge how much heated air is seeping out of the house, which is usually done before weatherization services are suggested. That and the infrared camera that shows where heat loss is occurring are the homeowner’s best tools for seeing what’s actually happening with the flow of air in and out of the house, and thus for understanding why insulation matters so much. “It is mysterious. You can’t see air, so what are we doing?” The door and the camera peel back the invisibility cloak.


NO REGRETS: One observation he’s made in his line of work? Choosing between heating systems can be confusing, especially as prices fluctuate. People might watch the price of oil drop and regret switching to say, a propane boiler. But when it comes to sealing the envelope of a house? “Nobody ever says, ‘I wish I didn’t put in as much insulation.’ ”

SHOW US YOURS: What kind of heat and insulation does an inspector have in his own home, a 1970s ranch with some additions? “I heat with just a very small pellet stove.” That provides 90 percent of his heat; the rest comes from a solar thermal system that generates hot water. He’s been doing the air sealing and insulation himself. “I have just been picking away at the upgrading. I took off the siding and added two inches of foam last summer. Last winter, it was very comfortable throughout the house.”

How much does he pay for heat? “Last year it was probably less than $400.”

DOES A TESTER TEST? If we had a blower door system around the house, we’d want to check our numbers every time we did more insulating or air sealing work. Does he do that? Not yet. “Maybe this weekend, I’ll take it out and test it.”

SUSTAINABLE LIVING: He and his partner have a big garden and a little hoop house, and new this year, three beehives. They took an adult education class in beekeeping with Lincoln Sennett of Swan’s Honey, came home with a nucleus hive, divided the bees and then, thanks to a swarm they happened to catch, now have three thriving hives. “They just went nuts this year.”

The bees dine on Johnny’s flower trial field, “that just happens to be down the road. We’ve been stealing from Johnny’s all summer.” His curiosity about keeping bees was piqued by having used them to pollinate the family blueberry fields in Brunswick.


ALL ORGANIC: Hill’s family has owned blueberry fields in Brunswick for multiple generations; when the former U.S. Navy air base was built in the early 1940s, the government took some of their fields by eminent domain. The Hill family still owns considerable acreage near the high school, leasing about 70 acres to Seth Kroeck of Crystal Spring Farm and managing another 25 themselves. Both Kroeck and the Hills grow organic and sell to Todd Merrill of Merrill Blueberry Farms in Ellsworth, the only organic packer in Maine. “I like Todd a lot, and it’s a good market. I really wanted to get away from any sort of spraying.”

How, with the pressures of development (the high school was built on former blueberry fields owned by another family), have they managed to hold onto this farm? He chuckles. “My mother was pretty stern about keeping it going.”



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