By Joel Legunn – Background material provided by SERG
Thetford, Vermont sits on the Connecticut River one exit north of Hanover on I-91. Although surrounded by, and in easy reach of all the activities and amenities in the Upper Valley—the educational, cultural and medical facilities of Dartmouth, as well as the businesses, services and other cultural venues in the Hanover-Lebanon area and beyond—Thetford still reflects the characteristics of a rural community. Home to a variety of farms, including three that are organic, local general stores, a large furniture factory, several small businesses, telecommuters and home businesses, its has few commercial overtones.
However, like other similar areas in Vermont, it is a rural setting with some of the oldest (and consequently, least energy efficient) housing stock in the nation. Thetford has 1190 homes today. According to a survey done by the Thetford Historical Society, there were 197 houses built before 1858 that were still standing as of 1960. In the two decades since 1990, 194 new houses were built—with 87 of these being built in the last 10 years. In between, this leaves about 800 houses that range in age from about 20 to 150 years. Given the age spectrum that Thetford houses span, it can reasonably be assumed that a good number of them are energy inefficient.
Enter SERG and the TEC
- 1989: Bob Walker, authored EarthRight’s Guide to Town Energy Planning in Vermont, to help towns assess and plan their energy use. He spent several years building energy efficient homes, including his own.
- 2002: Non-profit Sustainable Energy Resource Group (SERG) formed, to educate homeowners about energy conservation, improve energy efficiency, use of renewables and raise community awareness about local energy problems and solutions.. They form and consult with town energy committees, and homeowners. Early efforts resulted in the first two town energy committees in Vt—the Thetford and Norwich Energy Committees. There are now over 100 town energy committees throughout VT and NH.
- 2007: Workshops developed for homeowners on how to save energy in the home. Thetford, Putney and Montpelier’s, were so successful that in the following year the Central Vermont Community Action Council (CVCAC) got a grant to work with SERG and Efficiency Vermont to develop the Button-Up Vermont Home Energy Saving Workshops, which are now entering their 4th year.
Thetford emerged as the perfect laboratory for innovative energy-related projects that have subsequently been implemented in other towns, developing numerous energy projects such as compact fluorescent light (CFL) sales, a town streetlight initiative, and home energy-saving workshops.
CFL Sales. SERG and TEC sold 1,690 CFLs at annual town meetings, and hands out educational information on energy conservation. Lifetime savings estimated at 461,800 kWh, $89,265 in electric costs and 530 tons of CO2 emissions.
Lights Out. In 2005 a third of the town lights were removed and entered into a protracted Public Service Board docket with CVPS that ultimately required CVPS to allow for town ownership of street lights. This year, Thetford got a federal stimulus grant to upgrade lights to LEDs and it forced CVPS to provide a more favorable rate for town ownership. Seven more lights were removed. In total, by cutting our lights from 44 to 22 and upgrading to LEDs, we will cut our electric use for streetlights by about 86%, saving more than 15,000 kwh/yr!
Thetford Center Community Center. In 2009, SERG got a $12,000 Vermont Community Climate Change Grant to work with TEC and community volunteers to weatherize the Thetford Center Community Center (TCCC). SERG and the Thetford Community Center Association raised an additional $12,000 support for the project.
This volunteer-assisted weatherization project was a huge success. Blower door tests performed prior to and at completion of work showed a reduction of air infiltration by almost 80% volunteer air sealing measures resulted in about 70% reduction in infiltration, with dense-packed cellulose reducing infiltration another 10%. Insulation improvements included 2” of foam added to the basement walls, 16” of cellulose added to the attic, and the 4” walls, which previously had no insulation, were dense-packed with cellulose. In addition, a high-efficiency condensing furnace was installed.
In all, 55 community volunteers contributed over 490 hrs of labor over 12 workdays retrofitting and weatherizing, including perimeter excavation and drainage, foundation repair and electrical upgrades, including installation of a range hood and bath fan for ventilation.
In addition to volunteers who learned weatherization skills on the job, numerous professionals volunteered their skilled labor and contributed materials, resulting in a very cost-effective and educational project.
In 2011, SERG and the TEC recruited and trained 50 volunteers as the Thetford Home Energy Action Team (HEAT) to promote home weatherization in town. This fall, they engaged in a town-wide “Door2Door” canvassing campaign distributing free CFLs, information on energy efficiency initiatives and resources for making upgrades. Volunteers also conducted a home energy survey and offered help in calculating the energy efficiency of the homes visited. Results to date include:
- 650 homes visited (out of 1100 homes)—60% of homes in town
- 240 home energy use surveys completed
- 158 CFL’s installed
- 31 coupons given out for replacing refrigerators with Energy Star upgrades
- 37 coupons given out for replacing washing machines with Energy Star upgrades
- 49 Energy Star coupons worth $150 each toward energy efficiency improvements given out
Case studies of two Thetford homeowners who had successfully weatherized their homes were conducted – one reduced energy use by about 40% and the other by 46%. Results were distributed to every home in town and the homeowners presented their results to visitors at our Thetford Home Energy Expo and an Open Homes Tour.
One goal for the Thetford HEAT initiative was to triple the number of homes that get weatherized every year in Thetford, which would put us on par with the state climate action plan. We will continue tracking results from these efforts for 3 yrs to identify how many homeowners weatherized their homes, what savings resulted and what drove homeowners to make these improvements so the project can be successfully replicated in other communities.
TEC Community Education Programs
TEC sponsors a number of programs that foster public education on energy issues, and stimulate Thetford residents to participate in weatherization projects Some of these are:
- Warmth in Winter—an annual movie and lecture series
- 350 Challenge at the Thetford Elementary School
- Books, DVDs, watt-meters and other educational resources provided by SERG and TEC to the town library
- Monthly energy-saving tips published in the town newsletter
- Home energy workshops
- Local food workshops—raising chickens, improving soil, fencing, a root cellar tour, which ultimately led to the formation of the Pompanoosuc Agricultural Society that focuses on developing infrastructure to promote local food growing, harvesting, storing and processing.
TEC plans to track homeowner weatherization and energy savings for the next three years, implement the PACE program in Thetford next year, and continue promoting weatherization and renewables projects. And we are currently planning our annual Warmth in Winter series—movies and lecture discussions on energy-related topics.
Partial response to a recent survey taken on the Thetford List Serve revealed that at least seven homes in town have been retrofitted with solar devices. Five of them generate hot water, one is for passive solar heat, and one is for solar electric. With the availability of PACE next year, TEC and SERG look forward to guiding more Thetford homeowners on projects that result in energy efficiency upgrades, and the addition of renewables. Although PACE is a loan program, homeowners can still apply for federal and state initiatives to reduce their out-of-pockets costs for the whole project.
Citing all the positive outcomes resulting from the combined efforts of SERG and TEC, Bob Walker said that “although excess energy use, green house gas emissions, and climate change are global issues, the solution to these problems may be more effectively addressed by numerous independent grassroots efforts like those we have right here in Vermont,” noting that, “we’re running out of time, and we can’t wait for the government to make up its mind!”