WILTON — Since the spike in heating oil prices, the discussion of how Mainers should heat their homes in a way that is both effective and less costly has risen significantly. In Franklin County, Western Maine Community Actions [WMCA] has been working hard to prepare its clientele for the coming winter months.

On the fuel side, Program Director of Community Services Judy Frost recently opened up about the struggles of meeting the demand of their clients due to the large volume of people with fuel needs as well as concerns over funding.

She remains confident that WMCA will continue to aid their clients thanks to the large influx of community efforts to supply heating assistance to those in the Franklin County area and beyond.

On the other side of the coin, Bill Crandall, Housing Director for WMCA, has been dealing with similar issues while trying to make sure everyone gets the help they need.

Addressing client issues with weatherization, home repair, central heating improvement and heat pumps, Crandall and his team have been working hard to ensure low income and elderly citizens are able to stay in their homes and live comfortably throughout the year.

The issues Crandall and his team have been running into have been supply shortages due to COVID-19 and other factors as well as contending with a long wait list for clients.


“It’s a long list. It definitely is,” He stated. “But most of our lists are pretty long.”

Crandall also added that many of their vendors and contractors that WMCA works with have been extremely busy and if there anything he would like to see more of, it’s them.

“We’ve been very lucky,” he stated. “We got a great bunch of professional heating contractors that we use, but we’re always open [and] would encourage other heating contractors to apply to do work with us. Whether they’re in checking out heating systems or installing heat pumps, we’re always interested in getting other vendors into our pool of vendors.”

In the times since he’s joined WMCA, the program has seen some serious strides in terms of funding. “When I got here in 2013, we had about $292,000 set aside for client services for housing. And this last past year, we we spent into the Franklin County community $6.3 million, just the housing program,” Crandall stated.

With the future of heating oil prices remaining uncertain, many are wondering if heat pumps are the best alternative. However, many had doubts if heat pumps could be a home’s central heating system, but Efficiency Maine aimed to disprove that misconception.

In Oct., The Press Herald reported a project wherein Efficiency Maine replaced the heating system of ten mobile homes with heat pumps. Their aim was to demonstrate high-efficiency heat pumps being able to handle the job alone in subzero temperatures.


Crandall, however, still has his doubts.

“[Heat pumps aren’t] necessarily always meant for a whole house unless your home is fully weatherized,” Crandall commented. “But it does help offset some of the expenses, especially that we’re seeing this year with the high fuel cost.

“My concern always is if the electrical rates go up, that’s also going to be a burden on folks. And my belief has always been that heat pumps are very beneficial, especially for the older folks,” he added.

In 2021, Maine saw a significant rise in the heat pump installations, with more than 27,000 installed with the help of Efficiency Maine’s rebated incentive program. The goal of Efficiency Maine is to phase out heating systems that use fossil fuels, in favor of renewable energy heating systems.

Crandall, despite his reservation of having heat pumps be the primary heating source for most homes, is also an advocate of biomass fuel.

“I’ve always been an advocate for pellet stoves and biomass energy,” he said. “I think Maine has always had a long history with forestry products and I really think that’s another avenue that I’m hoping that MaineHousing with their LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] funding will consider this year around is maybe also putting in pellet stoves for their source heating.”


With that said, Crandall doesn’t want to underscore the benefits of heat pumps to their customers.

“I really think that the heat pumps are a really good tool for our people in Franklin County,” he added. “I think that if you’re able to just take the chill off a house, rather than heat up the whole house to get the one area you’re trying to heat, you’re saving a lot of energy by just using a heat pump.”

When the WMCA investigates what a client’s needs are and the topic of keeping warm during the colder months enters the conversation, one of the first things Crandall’s team will look into is weatherization.

“Typically, what happens if we go to a place and it’s got a heating system that needs repairs or replacement, we’ll consider it for weatherization as well.”

Crandall is also weary of replacing an existing heating system with a system that has a different fuel type unless it’s a safety concern.

“The program at the federal level really does not like to do fuel switching,” He stated. “We can do it, for example, for an older Mainer that is having issues with their health.

“For example, their primary heat source might have been a wood stove. We can replace that wood stove with a central heating system, such as oil or kerosene or propane heater. That would take the place of that stove. And typically, we would take whatever system we’re replacing and take it out of service. But we would have to go through a special waiver to change fuel with MaineHealth.”

Moving into the new year, Crandall is very confident that his team and the other programs at WMCA will continue to service their clientele with whatever needs they have.

“Of all the community action agencies, we’re probably the most responsive, and I say that with some with quite a bit of confidence,” he said. “I think Franklin County residents are well served by [WMCA].”

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