By Jenevra Wetmore
As we head into winter, retail prices for energy are at or near multiyear highs in the United States. This means that those of us who heat with natural gas, oil, and propane will spend more money this year than last. Some households can expect to see their heating bills jump as much as 54% compared to last winter, especially if we have the cold winter that is predicted.
The majority (74%) of Vermont’s thermal energy use is fossil fuel based and, on average, Vermonters who heat with fossil fuels spend from $1,500 to $2,200 each year on home heating costs (anywhere from 2-7% of income). Unfortunately, low-income households spend significantly more of their income on heating their homes than the rest of the population. This means that low-income Vermonters carry a higher energy burden, defined as the annual spending on energy as a percentage of income. Part of the reason for this disparity is the that lower-income households are disproportionately dependent on two of the highest-cost heating sources: Fuel oil and inefficient resistance electric systems. On top of that, the most widespread adoption of clean energy technologies and efficiency is in communities with the lowest energy burden. In other words, technologies like heat pumps and other efficiency upgrades are more available to Vermonters who can afford the upfront costs.
If you have been thinking about weatherization or technologies like heat pumps for your home, now is the time. October is Button Up Season in Vermont. Every fall the Button-Up campaign helps Vermonters prepare for winter by insulating and weatherizing their homes. To weatherize a building is to protect it from the elements, keeping heat in and reducing energy consumption. Weatherizing your home is not a one size fits all process, and can include small DIY upgrades like weatherstripping and air sealing leaks or a larger comprehensive weatherization project for the whole home. There are financing options, rebates, and incentives to help you along the way, whichever path you choose.
Vermont has many incentives and opportunities to weatherize and install more efficient technologies–the trick is to know which you qualify for and how to access funds. You may be eligible for free weatherization services if your income is below certain levels. The Department for Children and Families has guidelines for this Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) on their website, or you can give them a call to find out. In the Woodstock area these free services are provided by SEVCA (Southeastern Vermont Community Action), and visiting their website or calling will also provide the information you need to determine eligibility. (www.sevca.org) If you do not qualify for free weatherization, there are other great options and incentives. Income-based Home Energy Loans offer as low as 0% interest and up to 100% financing for home weatherization and heating improvements, and can include: cold-climate heat pumps, air sealing and insulation, solar hot water heaters, heat pump water heaters, central pellet boilers and furnaces, and advanced cord wood and pellet stoves. Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, another program available to Vermonters, allows you to work with an Efficiency Excellence Network contractor to improve your home’s insulation and air sealing and get 50% off project costs. These “money back” programs that offer rebates are common when purchasing a new efficient appliance as well. (Visit efficiencyvermont.com for details.)
Weatherization may not be as flashy as buying a new electric vehicle, but it is one of the most important things you can do for the climate. The thermal sector accounts for about 34% of Vermont’s Greenhouse Gas emissions, making it the state’s second largest source of climate pollution, behind transportation. To reach the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) emissions reduction requirements, we will need to weatherize around 120,000 more homes by 2030. Our housing stock in Vermont is much older than the US average, meaning many of our homes need significant energy efficiency improvements to meet our climate goals.
Besides reducing your carbon footprint, weatherization has many other benefits including: fewer drafts, increased comfort, health benefits, and savings on fuel and heating costs. Weatherizing has saved Vermont households an average of 15% on their fuel expenses. Statistics from the income-based Weatherization Assistance Program show that comprehensive home weatherization adds about 1,500 square feet of insulation, and reduces drafts by about 40%, making for a much more comfortable home. By weatherizing your home, you will help Vermont to reduce carbon emissions while saving money and increasing comfort.
Have more questions? Join Sustainable Woodstock for a Green Drinks all about Weatherization! This virtual Weatherization Workshop will feature Lisa Ricci of COVER Home Repair to get home weatherization tips and learn about their DIY weatherization kits. The event is FREE and open to everyone from any town in VT. RSVP by contacting Sustainable Woodstock or online here: https://coverweatherization.eventbrite.com Thursday October 21st, 2021 5:30 pm on Zoom.
Weatherization and energy efficiencies, in combination with moderate energy use, add up to significant savings in fuel costs, lightening the burden on household budgets and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.