Money Down The Toilet? Up The Chimney?

Here’s a story from Maine this morning about the phase-out of a federally-funded local “efficiency” program.  The Green Energy Alliance aimed, in theory, at improving the heating efficiency of homes around here, but in reality, seems to have spent a lot of money to achieve not a great deal.  Specifically, they completed “200 energy audits and help complete 50 home retrofits”, and in doing so spent $355,836.

Okay, honestly, I don’t know if that’s a reasonable or unreasonable amount so spend for that particular amount of work.  What I do feel pretty strongly about, though, is that even when it is managed well, the effort and and money thrown at “retrofitting” and “weatherizing” and, here, “homeowner coaching” towards the same, is mostly a rather inefficient way of reducing heating fuel use– the exception being the odd house that is truly horridly underinsulated– I mean, like, zero insulation left between the studs, holes in the windows, that kind of thing.  Barring those situations, I think the first forms of “coaching” homeowners (and renters) should be aimed at changing behavior, rather than renovating houses.  Specifically, I’d tell people to:

1)  Strongly consider moving to a smaller place, especially if your kids have grown up and left, or you don’t have any.

2)  If you can’t or don’t want to move, strongly consider living in less of your house in the winter.  Heat only what you need.

3)  If your house is too big, and for some reason you can’t or don’t want to heat only part of your house, consider getting a housemate.

4)  Try living at lower temps.  Try it.  Do it.

Also, I can tell you this definitively:  That money spent by the Green Energy Alliance would’ve heated our house for over 1,000 years.  Or, looked at differently, it could’ve heated the homes of 1,000 people this winter– if they agreed to follow steps 1-4 above.

5 Responses to “Money Down The Toilet? Up The Chimney?”

  1. Jane Says:

    Yes, well, people living in separate houses rather than large dormitories is also an inefficient way of using heating fuel.

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that your preferred way of living, or even my less dramatically different one, isn’t one that’s going to become widespread unless and until the world really does run out of heating fuel. (It may yet come to that, though not in our lifetimes.)

    In the meantime, it certainly makes sense to me to help people identify and make cost-effective fixes to leaky homes. Those are basically one-time costs which reduce both fuel use and the ever-increasing cost of staying warm.

  2. John Says:

    For the state though, having people move into smaller houses does nothing unless big houses get abandoned in turn. Otherwise you just have different people in the same housing stock.

    Don’t forget too that the state is interested in creating employment with these things.

  3. icerabbit Says:

    I am always a bit nervous when I hear about multiple millions of dollars being spent creating additional assistance projects. Lots of overhead, startup costs, advertising and not many people qualify for help and benefit, as this article proved.

    Doesn’t Maine already spend over 50 or 60 million $/year through liheap? That is a ton of (tax) money to spend on oil. I would rather see it being spent on actual winterization, insulation, conservation and such, than on oil itself; because otherwise you just keep pouring oil without any conservation.

    Considering our 100 year old house (buttoned up, upgraded insulation, programmable thermostat, sensible temperature, solar gain,…), actually gets us through a Maine winter on one single tank of heating oil ,,, I always wonder what the building situation and thermostat setting is where one or two tanks of heating oil are subsidized by the state, besides what the owner already spends, another one or two tanks?

    Our one oil man once said that the average house in Maine goes through 800 gallons of oil per year. We have never used half of that in our old house, but started out significantly insulating the attic when we moved in, before winter came.

    I have seen a couple households go into and through the deep of winter that have one or more of the following: a basement window open, miss a basement window and just have a piece of cardboard, have multiple storm windows open in front of single pane glass, an hole in a pane of glass, a hole in the wall. If you don’t button up your house in the fall, that is just throwing money away.

    Tackling the worst leaks in the house goes a long way, and none of the steps you described or I commonly would recommend are rocket science:

    + close all windows
    + button up the house (if there is a draft somewhere, stop it)
    + wear a sweater at least
    + dial down the temperature a few degrees, at a time (don’t go cold turkey – wink)
    + minimize heating parts of the house you don’t use
    + insulate your attic (heat rises)
    + get a programmable thermostat & program it colder at night and when at work
    + when possible invest in some insulating window coverings … average windows are only R1 (single) – R2 (double). It pays to cover them.

  4. Betsy Says:

    I’ve only just found your website and I wanted to comment as I so agree with your comments. We live in an 18th century cottage in the UK – winters much milder than yours I hasten to add, but since our children left home, we do exactly what you suggest. We live in the front room which has a woodburning stove and the kitchen which has a Rayburn – a cast iron cooker which keeps the kitchen warm. I take a hot water bottle to bed to warn it and that’s about it. Although we do have heating, we don’t use it much and we turn off the radiators and close the doors to rooms we’re not using much. When I first came to England and complained about the cold my husband said ‘Put on another jumper ( British for sweater) and that’s been my policy for the past thirty years!

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