Reaching out to Button Up

by Rebecca Foster, Director of Efficiency Vermont

On a recent blustery Saturday morning, volunteer teams of Efficiency Vermont staff fanned out to Georgia, Grafton, Moretown, Newport, and Richford, Vermont. Our purpose was to help button up the homes of five senior citizens. Seniors in Vermont are often in need of a little extra help around their homes. We hope that a helping hand to get ready for winter will make their lives a little easier.

We organized this volunteer day in support of the Button Up Vermont campaign. The campaign is a coalition of partners working together to raise awareness of the need to weatherize homes for winter and provide resources to help families take action -- something that everyone at Efficiency Vermont feels very passionate about.

I was lucky enough to be part of the team who worked on the home in Moretown. We arrived in the morning and spent several hours tracking down and sealing leaky windows, doors, ducts, and foundations. We know this is where cold outside air was getting in. We also insulated the attic hatch to reduce the amount of warm air that was escaping the home. These are all relatively simple do-it-yourself (DIY) projects.

photo colaage of airsealing and blower door

While working with a qualified contractor is the best way to achieve substantial energy savings, DIY projects around the house can make a measurable difference as well. Our volunteer work proved this out. In four of the homes we worked on, we conducted blower door tests – a technique used by building pros to measure the relative air-tightness of a home. We ran the tests before and after we did our work. We were able to make improvements in air-tightness ranging from 10 to 20 percent. We did the same DIY work that qualifies for our new DIY Weatherization rebate offer – up to $100 for tools and materials to complete at least three select projects. Of course, every home is different and the results of DIY projects can vary significantly, but it was good to see that in the four homes where we tested we achieved positive results.

Partnership enables action

We relied on partnerships to turn our good intentions to weatherize homes into action. The state’s Councils on Aging were instrumental in identifying homes that could use the help of our volunteer effort. They helped arrange advance visits by our energy consultants so that they could perform assessments of the homes. This allowed the energy consultants to create work plans and pick up the right materials so that all the volunteers could hit the ground running on our work day. We were grateful for the trusting relationships that the Councils on Aging have developed with their clients, enabling these seniors to be comfortable with the idea of a team of strangers coming into their homes.

We learned that warming hearts and warming homes go hand in hand. A group of Efficiency Vermont employees used their creativity and time to knit and crochet blankets for our crews to present to the homeowners as a token of our appreciation for hosting us. The homeowners accepted these small labors of love with gratitude.

four women standing in a circle with knitted and crocheted blankets

We also learned that it isn’t always easy asking for help. A sense of self-reliance is deeply ingrained, making it hard to reach out and ask others for a helping hand. Whatever apprehension our hosts may have felt at first melted away as we got to know each other. Their hospitality and graciousness humbled us. It drove home for us the value extending a helping hand without waiting for someone to ask.

This is a lesson for all of us; if you can help, try. If you are handy with a foam gun and weather stripping, why not knock on the door of that older neighbor’s home and offer to help them button up?  You may sacrifice a couple of hours of your weekend, but I can attest that the sense of community and friendship you’ll feel is all the compensation you’ll need.

Whether it’s helping out a neighbor or focusing on your own home, lots of resources are available to help you take the next step. Button Up Vermont provides a great list of projects to get you started. You can also find out if you live in one of the 19 participating communities where free home energy assessments are available from qualified contractors in our Efficiency Excellence Network. As always, Efficiency Vermont is a phone call or click away with energy saving information and rebates. We’re here to help make it a little easier to get ready for winter.

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