Weybridge Ahead on Vermont Home Energy Challenge

By Molly Talbert

Climate change scares Fran Putnam, but it hasn’t paralyzed her. Instead, she leads the Weybridge Energy Coalition and has spearheaded the town’s latest energy related success – becoming the first town in Vermont to complete the Vermont Home Energy Challenge.

The Challenge, which was prompted by a partnership between Efficiency Vermont and the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN), began in January and is a competition between many towns in Vermont. The goal for participating towns is to have three percent of their homes weatherized by the end of the year.

Weatherizing a home – a process which requires steps such as changing windows and sealing cracks –  increases its efficiency, thus saving money and reducing green house gas emissions. At the end of the competition, the winning town will be awarded $10,000 that will go towards funding an energy initiative.

Last Sunday, Weybridge celebrated not only the completion of the challenge but also being the first town in Vermont to do so, on their statewide Button Up Day of Action, a day in which towns encourage their residents to make their homes more efficient.

The town of Weybridge hasn’t officially won the competition, but many community members believe that they have a good shot at winning the statewide competition.

“There are only 300 houses in Weybridge and only 800 people, so we only needed ten houses,” said Putnam. “We’ve actually got eleven houses [weatherized] and we’re beyond our goal.”

Weybridge’s small size helped them achieve the three percent they needed. For a comparison, Middlebury, a larger town, needs to weatherize 91 houses to complete the same goal.

When asked what propelled Weybridge to the forefront of this challenge, Gwen Nagy-Benson, whose house was the first to be weatherized, said that the volunteers in the town and Putnam’s energy were key factors.

“Weybridge is a … close-knit community – people care about and trust each other, which makes this kind of community effort easier,” Nagy-Benson said. “And, we have Fran Putnam! She has been an expert leader of this initiative – she has inexhaustible energy for the Home Energy Challenge.”

One of the hurdles to getting a house weatherized is the cost, the pressure of which is put on individual home-owners.

When asked how big of an investment it is to weatherize one’s home, Putnam said, “It depends on how much needs to be done. The average is $6,000 to do a complete weatherization.”

Although there are financial incentives of up to $2,500 if a home reaches at least a 10 percent efficiency improvement, and even though weatherization saves the homeowner money in the long run, cost is, understandably, still an issue for many people.

“We had [a home energy] audit done about two years earlier, but we were never able to go forward with the work because the financing options were complicated or not readily available,” said Nagy-Benson. “By the time the Home Energy Challenge kicked off, we were able to secure a loan from our credit union and begin work.”

Although much of what motivates Putnam is driven by a need to mitigate carbon emissions contributing to climate change, many people are motivated to weatherize their homes because, in addition to being better for the environment, it is simply a practical measure to take.

“We never had any hesitations about weatherizing our home – we endured three winters in a drafty house that guzzled heating oil, and three summers baking in the heat,” said Nagy-Benson. “We knew that insulation and air sealing would help maintain a more even and comfortable temperature.”

Eric Lamy, owner of the tenth house in Webridge to be weatherized, had similar motivations as Nagy-Benson.

“We only moved to Weybridge last winter and the heating bills were pretty substantial,” said Lamy. “We decided to go forward with the renovations so that we could rely more heavily on the fireplace [to heat the house].”

Lamy also has long term financial incentives in mind and thinks that a more efficient home will help the resale value if he and his wife ever decide to sell their home.

When Putnam works to convince people to weatherize their homes, she highlights these financial incentives.

“It is the only home improvement that pays for itself, guaranteed,” said Putnam. “Every year you see more savings.”

Putnam believes that weatherizing one’s home also opens the door for people to consistently make more environmentally friendly changes in their lives in general.

“When people do this work [to their house], they become more sensitive to how they do things,” she said. She thinks that  after renovating their houses many people might consider biking rather than driving, or installing low-flow showerheads to conserve water.

Overall, the town of Weybridge seems to have embraced the efforts of the Weybridge Energy Committee, as was evident on Button Up Day. Putnam said that over 100 residents attended Button Up Day and that they served 65 pieces of pie, countless doughnuts, cider and coffee in addition to handing out 35 vouchers for free energy savings kits.

This supports Lamy’s claim that the community is accepting of the program.

“I haven’t heard too much pushback towards the initiatives and that speaks well for the community,” he said. “We’re starting to make a name for ourselves.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “Weybridge Ahead on Vermont Home Energy Challenge”

  1. Fran Putnam on October 10th, 2013 2:40 pm

    Thanks, Molly, for the great work you did reporting on this article. The photo on the bottom of the page was taken by Gioia Kuss, a member of the Weybridge Energy Committee.

    Fran Putnam

Middlebury College's only student-run newspaper.
Weybridge Ahead on Vermont Home Energy Challenge