How a video call helped one couple stay cool this summer

3 min read
Barre, VT

By spring 2021, Bill and Nathalie Sugarman, of Barre were getting tired of having the same conversation. How to keep their 1942 home cool in the summer? Bill, who’s a Regional Manager for VocRehab, says, “My wife and I get along on just about everything. But it was a constant debate: do we blow fans out, do we blow fans in? How do we get cooler air to circulate? I had the attic hatch open for a while, we just couldn’t figure out what would work.”

Nathalie is a social worker at Randolph Elementary School. As the couple faced down another cooling season and considered installing their three bulky window air conditioning units, Bill saw a Front Porch Forum post advertising free Virtual Home Energy Visits from Efficiency Vermont. Bill thought that an objective party might be able to help offer expert advice.

This wasn’t their first time taking action on energy efficiency. When Bill and Nathalie moved into the home in 2009, they guessed that the only update that had been made since 1942 was the addition of a blue shag rug in the dining room. Insulation consisted of a couple inches of Rockwool batting, not enough to hold in heat in the winter.

Plus, a poorly designed vent running through the attic had been pouring heat directly out of the house. They worked with Efficiency Vermont and Weatherization and Renovation of Montpelier (WARM) to get an energy audit and complete a comprehensive weatherization project in 2010. Bill estimates that adding insulation and air sealing throughout the house helped drop their energy use by around a third. Those savings add up to a real impact on Bill and Nathalie’s carbon footprint as well.

An expert opinion to settle the score

After seeing a post on Front Porch Forum, Bill and Nathalie made an appointment with Efficiency Vermont Energy Consultant, Bruce Courtot for their Virtual Home Energy Visit. In a classic small-town Vermont moment, Bill and Bruce had actually been friends for many years. First launched in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virtual Home Energy Visits allow Vermonters to have an expert look at their home without needing to have someone come into the home. Bruce and Bill had a 45-minute video call. After Bill laid out the cooling challenge, Bruce asked them about how their house uses energy. Then he walked them through some building science.

The Sugarman’s house is solidly built with concrete board and plaster covering the 2x4 construction. The solid build plus the weatherization work means it retains heat well in the winter. Weatherization also helps retain cool air in the summer. But Bill and Nathalie also like having the windows open as much as possible. Bruce shared tips on how to minimize passive heat gain by keeping certain windows closed and shades drawn during the heat of the day. But Bruce explained that when the house gets up to the mid-70s inside, it’ll take many hours to cool back down with a mid-60s breeze from outside. Outside air alone wouldn’t keep them cool in the summer.

Bruce pointed out that they were spending a lot of money running their window AC units and fans, and still sweating. Instead, a heat pump might help them keep cool with less hassle, lower electric bills, and less sweat. After the call, he followed up with a written report so that the Sugarmans had a clear path for their next steps.

“It was easy. A quick video call – no selling, no pushing. It was really about helping me understand, and it was a million times better than trying to read about it on the Internet. I wish all things were that easy.”

Bill Sugarman, Barre
Happier with a heat pump

After working with Thivierge Heating Services in Graniteville to understand their options, Bill and Nathalie settled on a single ductless heat pump, or mini-split, in the upstairs bedroom. It was an immediate success. Weatherization and heat pumps go hand in hand, the tight home helping the heat pump perform even more efficiently.

The install was completed in summer 2021 just before a major heatwave. Even with temperatures in the 90s, the heat pump cooled the entire upstairs in about an hour. Bill shared that their window AC units hadn’t come close to the same results. Plus, they were noisier to run and a hassle to install and remove each summer.

The heat pump won’t just be a benefit in the summer. Each winter there are days that Bill and Nathalie run a small electric space heater to fight the cold and damp. Now the heat pump will be a (significantly more efficient) option to take the edge off throughout the winter.

“We don’t have to debate anymore! It’s just one question: do you want to turn on the heat pump? And the answer is yes!”

Bill Sugarman, Barre