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Ludy Biddle spent about $4,300 on insulation and air sealing to make her 18th-century Shrewsbury, Vt. home less drafty in winter, and she's cut her heating bills by more than half.
As executive director of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, she's on a mission to get others to do the same. But she remembers her own initial misgivings on doing work that could save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions tied to climate change.
"I really didn't believe that there could be much to improve our situation," Biddle said. "I' just assumed a house as old as mine couldn't be improved."
New research indicates Vermonters could save more than $800 million during the next 20 years and could generate jobs in the home improvement industry if residents would invest in insulation, new windows and other measures designed to keep homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, according to the Middlebury-based High Meadows Fund. The typical homeowner could cut costs by 30 to 50 percent.
High Meadows, a nonprofit devoted to environmental stewardship and economic vitality, released a group of studies Monday that examine ways to get more Vermonters over the sorts of misgivings Biddle described and get the work done to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
"It is not lack of funding that stops many homeowners from improving their energy efficiency," said Gaye Symington, executive director of High Meadows. "It is a lack of demand for what they consider a complicated process with unknown benefits. We need to make energy efficiency easier to see and do."
"Many Vermonters have started down this path with a home efficiency audit but don't go through with the recommended improvements because one step doesn't easily lead to the next," Symington said. "Not only are they forgoing potential savings of $800 to $1,100 a year, they're also missing out on the more comfortable home if they had finished the work."
People in the energy efficiency field talk about the "conversion rate" -- the percentage of people who pay $350 to $500 to get a home energy audit done and then go ahead and get the work the audit recommends completed. That latter step can cost several thousand dollars but can save more than that in the long run.
NeighborWorks has a conversion rate just shy of 50 percent, which Merrian Fuller, an energy efficiency researcher at the LawrenceBerkeley National Laboratory in California, said is high by national standards, though not the highest she has seen. Fuller said she had seen conversion rates ranging from 10 percent to 65 percent.
HighMeadows commissioned three other entities, the statewide energy conservation program Efficiency Vermont, the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School and the consulting group Regulatory Assistance Project in Montpelier, to look at ways to improve follow-through by homeowners who get audits.
Among the recommendations made by those groups:
-- Energy efficiency should be easier to see. For example, a home's energy profile could be disclosed when it is sold, much like the miles-per-gallon sticker on cars.
-- Financing should be available to more Vermonters, including renters, with simple, quick loan applications that have attractive terms and conditions.
-- Outreach efforts need to be consistent and coordinated among various partners, including community organizations, private businesses and Efficiency Vermont. Biddle said a key to her program's success has been follow-up calls to homeowners who've had audits to find out what they need to take the next step in getting the work done.