For years, certain rooms in our home — kitchen, living room — were cold in the winter.

“We should get an energy audit,” I said to my husband.

He: “Our home is well built. It has enough insulation.”

Me: “Our home is well built. It had enough insulation in 1960.”

Then in January 2014, home heating oil prices shot up to nearly $4 a gallon. Our monthly budgeted oil payment rose to $300. Then it went to nearly $400.

Rick scheduled an energy audit.

We had the audit done in February 2014 by DeWitt Kimball of Complete Home Evaluation Services of Brunswick. He’s independent, meaning he doesn’t work for an oil or gas company, doesn’t sell heat pumps or solar panels. His recommendations are conflict free.

On a cold February day, Kimball showed up with all kinds of infrared gadgets and blowers. His mission was to see if he could find any heat loss in our four-bedroom Garrison home.

No surprise. He found some.

He measured every room and the basement. Kimball could tell where there was insulation in the attic, where there wasn’t. He could tell us how much heat was leaking out, and explained how spots in the attic that had no insulation acted like a chimney allowing heat (and our hard-earned money) to escape. Heat rises.

After his inspection, we received a printed analysis. It projected if we properly insulated the attic ($2,000) and got a heat pump ($3,000), we could dramatically decrease our heating costs.

Smaller savings could be gained by insulating the basement, covering windows with energy efficient curtains and upgrading our hot water system so it wasn’t a part of our home heating system. Running the oil furnace in June, July and August was an expensive way to get hot water, Kimball said.

We liked how his audit prioritized the efforts that would give us the biggest bang for our bucks.

With dollar savings dancing in his head, Rick dove into the project with gusto. He called contractors and gathered information on what they could do and how much they would charge.

Initially we planned to just insulate the attic and install a heat pump. We ended up doing everything on the list. The whole thing cost about $10,000 before the $1,500 Efficiency Maine rebate.

Rick chose Dog House Energy Services of Freeport to install the heat pump in our living room and a Geospring hybrid water heating system. Both work really well. We love the heat pump.

Rick picked Upright Frameworks of Wilton to put in attic and basement insulation. They were great, and took pains to insulate but to also ensure there was sufficient venting. I love how the house isn’t drafty.

On a recent October morning, the temperature was 38 degrees outside, 68 inside without turning on any heat. On a colder October morning, the outside temperature was 25; inside it was 60 without any heat on when we woke up. (The heat pump was swiftly turned on that morning.)

The final numbers: Big savings

After going through our first winter with the energy-conservation improvements done, we have the results: We substantially cut our oil use compared to the previous two years, reduced our carbon footprint and are on our way to some long-term energy cost savings.

In 2012-13 we used 802 gallons of oil; in 2013-14 we used 655 gallons. In 2014-15, which had a slightly colder winter than the year before, we used 374 gallons of oil after the energy improvements. This year’s monthly budgeted oil payment: $69. Oh yeah!

We are using more electricity to run the heat pump, but not an amount that upsets the checkbook.

Our light bill went from $60 in January 2014 to $125 in January 2015 – a $65 increase. During the shoulder seasons the electric bill is now about $80 a month, $55 during the summer. And we only ran the heat pump on three days during the temperate months. (See below.)

In 2014 it cost us $3,500 to heat the house with oil and for hot water. In 2015 it cost $1,000 to heat the house and for hot water, including the heat pump and oil furnace. While we estimate that about half of that $2,500 in savings is due to the current low price of oil, the rest of the savings are sufficient for us to be able to pay off our investment in eight years or less.

The money to pay for the improvements came from our retirement savings. If instead we had taken out a $9,000 loan for 10 years at the 4.99 percent rate offered by Efficiency Maine, the monthly savings would have been enough to make the monthly loan payments. For information on energy improvement loans, go to efficiencymaine.com. 

Heat pumps double as air conditioners in the warm months. This summer we only needed air conditioning on three days. We open the windows to let in cool air during summer nights. All that new, nifty insulation keeps our house cooler longer.

A few disclosures. In the winter we have the house temperature between 68 to 70 degrees. I don’t mind putting on slippers and a sweater, but I’m not going sit at the dining room table wearing a hat and coat.

And because we’re empty-nesters, two of our bedrooms aren’t used. Rick noticed that simply closing those doors saved heat. When the doors are closed, the rooms are colder because the heat pump in the living room — near our one thermostat — keeps the downstairs warm enough to prevent the oil furnace from kicking on as often.

The energy audit cost about $325, which helped qualify us for the $1,500 rebate. I highly recommend getting an audit done by a reputable energy expert before doing any energy improvements.

A good audit helps you find out which project makes the most financial sense for your home. It can help you avoid throwing a lot of money at a project that will only save you a little, like insulating the walls when you really need it in the ceiling.

A real-life example: We were told more than once by an oil company technician we ought to consider a new oil furnace; a new one would be more efficient and cut our oil consumption.

Kimball didn’t recommend that. He said our boiler was running at 82 percent efficiency; a new one would run at about 85 percent efficiency; so $7,000 for a 3 percent efficiency gain? It was easy call to make.

This year’s low, $2-a-gallon cost of oil means that dollar-wise, we aren’t saving as much. But we aren’t spending as much either, and we still are saving, using less energy and the house is more comfortable.

Based on our numbers, Efficiency Maine staffer Dana Fischer estimates we’ve reduced our carbon footprint between 25 to 40 percent. That also makes me smile.

And while I welcome the current lower oil prices, we’ve learned energy prices are unpredictable and often go back up. We’re now more prepared when they do.

[email protected]

Pay off your loan with energy savings

AUGUSTA — You say you don’t have $5,000 or $10,000 hanging around to make energy improvements?

A good alternative — something the Auburn School Department did — is to take out an energy loan, get the energy improvements done and make the payments with money that used to be spent on energy.

Dana Fischer of Efficiency Maine said the agency has energy loan programs from $1,000 to $25,000 with interest rates from 4.9 to 5.9 percent.

For instance, a $10,000 loan over 10 years would cost about $110 a month. In most cases homeowners are able to make that payment with money they used to spend on energy, “so it’s cash neutral if not cash positive,” Fischer said.

Homeowners can also get rebates up to $2,000. A $3,000 heat pump can qualify for a $500 rebate. As always, chose quality vendors after getting multiple quotes, checking references and asking questions.

For more information go to efficiencymaine.com

The value of snugging: By the numbers

Winter of 2013-2014: $3,500 to heat the house and make hot water

Summer of 2014: $10,000 ($8,500 after rebates) of energy improvements made

Winter of 2014-2015: $1,000 to heat the house and make hot water

Payoff: At an estimated $1,250 annual savings, payoff will be 7 years.  

(Note: Homeowner estimates about half the savings were due to a reduction in the price of home heating oil; the winter of 2014-15 was slightly colder than 2013-14.)


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.