AUBURN — Mary Roussel is in a odd situation compared to most Mainers — eagerly awaiting her wintertime heating bills just to see how big they are.
"I am really excited to see what it's going to cost me a year from now," she said. "They should be down, and I can't wait to see how much."
Roussel was one of the first to qualify for state rebates to make her home more energy efficient. Announced in January, the Efficiency Maine program set aside $9 million of a $27 million federal stimulus grant to encourage homeowners to make their homes energy efficient.
Roussel took that offer. Over the summer, crews performed $14,157 worth of improvements on her Grandview Avenue home, including a $500 energy audit in February. They filled walls and attics with insulation and scoured the corners of closets and crawl spaces looking for air leaks and holes.
Energy auditors from Community Concepts tested her home again in June to check up on the contractors' work and found improvements that should cut her energy bill in half.
That qualified her for a $3,000 grant from Efficiency Maine. She received an additional $1,000 grant because she finished the work before the end of August.
By calculating her energy savings, Roussel figures she will have paid off the remaining $10,157 worth of improvements in seven years.
"It's a great program and it's something I want to tell people about," Roussel said.
Andy Meyer, manager of Efficiency Maine's residential program, said the program is available to homeowners of all income types. Efficiency Maine is promoting the program especially hard now, but there has been plenty of interest anyway.
"Now is a good time to be thinking about this," Meyer said. "The weather is starting to change, and people are having to fill up that oil tank again. It's a good time to start thinking about efficiency."
Roussel said it was on her mind last winter. She had just retired and spent every day last winter in her home for the first time. With the thermostat locked at 60 degrees, some rooms were comfortable while other were freezing.
She jumped at the chance to winterize, registering for the program almost as soon as it was announced.
The audit showed that her home, built in 1919, had some wide open holes and lacked modern insulation. The only insulation on her attic walls, for example, was an inch-thick quilt of brown craft paper filled with seaweed.
"It was the original insulation that came with the house," she said. "We couldn't figure out what it was, but the contractor investigated it on the Internet."
Now, her attic and all of her walls are filled with blown-in insulation. Crews had to tear down paneling in her basement to fill those walls with insulation, then installed new Sheetrock walls.
Crews also sealed off a crawl space and patched other small holes around the house.
"When he first came through, the auditor said that all of the leaks in my house, when added together, would have been the size of a living room window, just left open," she said.