Sometimes it takes only a little help to make a big difference.

That’s the philosophy behind WindowDressers, a Rockland-based nonprofit that is the winner of our Energy Saver award.

The organization helps Mainers build low-cost, window-insulating inserts for their homes, which, in turn, reduce both fuel bills and carbon dioxide emissions. They keep drafty homes warmer and protect the environment at the same time.

Here’s how it works: Volunteers come to your home to measure your windows with laser precision. Homeowners buy and install the custom inserts, which are simply two layers of clear plastic that are wrapped on pine frames with foam weather stripping. (The average price per pine insert this year will be $28, according to the organization’s director, Laura Seaton.) Homeowners who take advantage of the program are then expected to attend a community workshop, to help build inserts for other households.

“These inserts are not difficult to build,” Seaton said. “What we do mainly is provide the training to show people how to do it, and the materials for people to build it with. So instead of each household running around and having to buy the lumber and find a place to get plastic that’s going to work well and figure out which are the right kinds of tape to use and what length of screws they need, we provide all of that ready to go. And we’ve bought it in bulk so we get a good price on it.”

In 2017, more than 2,000 volunteers at 27 community workshops build 6,214 inserts. Based on research done by the University of Maine, those inserts saved 880,000 gallons of heating fuel and more than $2.2 million in fuel costs.

Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, said that as long as the window inserts are properly stored and then re-installed over multiple winters, they offer a simple, cost-effective way for Mainers to save money and make their homes more comfortable.

“Helping Mainers on fixed incomes to affordably get through our long, cold winters is a tall task,” he said. “Programs from Efficiency Maine and MaineHousing offer some assistance, but we have limited budgets so it is great to see WindowDressers mobilizing volunteers to reach out and help their neighbors with this low-cost way to save energy.”

Dianne Smith, president of the WindowDressers board, works to finish a window insert at a Belfast community workshop. Photo courtesy of WindowDressers

WindowDressers got its start at the Universalist Church in Rockland in 2010, when an energy audit showed that leaky windows in the church’s sanctuary were a major source of heat loss. A church member built and donated 26 inserts, which fixed the problem. Other churchgoers wondered if the same solution would work in their own homes, and over the next few years WindowDressers was born.

Seaton said she expects 30 communities to participate in the program this year. Though participants are expected to give back by building inserts for others, it’s not a big ask, Seaton said; depending on the number of inserts they request, it may be just one four-hour shift. Elderly residents and others who may not be physically capable of doing the work are exempt, she added, “but we still make their inserts.”

Over the years, Seaton has heard many touching stories along these lines about how the program has improved the lives of elderly, housebound Mainers: Pre-inserts, they like to sit by a window in the sun, but they feel cold. Post-inserts, they can sit by their window, happy, warm and cozy, Seaton said.

Seaton has experienced the power of the inserts firsthand. She spends a lot of time in a rocking chair in her home by a window, nursing her son. Before she had inserts installed in December, she had to bundle the baby to keep him safe from the draft.

“Now you totally can’t feel any cold air coming from the window at all,” she said, “It really makes a big difference.”

For the baby, and for the planet he’ll one day inherit, too.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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