A Customer’s Story: The Heat Saver Loan

Sarah Flack is a homeowner who worked with an Efficiency Excellence Network contractor—Jacob Racusin of New Frameworks Natural Design/Build—to make much needed improvements to her house in Northern Vermont. For more information on the Heat Saver Loan, visit http://heatsaverloan.vermont.gov/

You got a Heat Saver Loan to make improvements to your home. How did you start the process?

SF: I had a list of concerns about the house, and I was trying to prioritize what to fix. I couldn’t afford to do everything that needed to be addressed. Through word of mouth, I found Jacob Racusin of New Frameworks Natural Design/Build.

It was great working with Jacob, because he wasn’t really selling me something. He was working closely with my installers to explore what was the safest and best option—I felt he was an advocate. Jacob went through all of the options with me. He is the one who told me about the Heat Saver Loan, which allowed me to address all the high-priority issues together.

Jacob tested to see where all the air leaks in the house were. I wanted to keep it more consistently comfortable in the winter without using a huge amount of fuel. I live off the grid because I am far from any power poles, and I use wood and propane for fuel. He looked at my hot water and propane and wood systems, and insulating and air sealing.

We prioritized together. We ended up working primarily on air leakage, insulating in the basement and the attic—and it significantly reduced the air leakage. I also wanted to make sure that if I was tightening up the house I wasn’t compromising air quality, and Jacob stressed health and safety as much as efficiency. I learned that my old water heater was backdrafting into the house. We replaced it with a sealed-combustion propane heater.

What difference did knowing about the Heat Saver Loan make for you?

SF: This was one of those projects with a lot of components. I had mentally pared it down to the basics—I figured I would space out the work, do one thing at a time, like just add insulation—so that I could afford it. Doing all the high-priority pieces at once was preferable, but there was no way I could have afforded that without the loan.

Jacob gave me the contact information for VSECU, which administered the loan [Note: Opportunities Credit Union also administers Heat Saver Loans]. The application was easy. I got a five-year loan with no interest, no closing costs, and no penalty if I paid it off early. It was kind of a no-brainer.

The folks at VSECU were also really great to work with. They were very flexible and quick to get hold of on the phone.

Jacob pointed me toward these awesome programs that I don’t think I would have found online without him. He seems to keep himself really informed about all the programs in the state.

What results did you see from the work that was done?

SF: It’s been less than a year since it was wrapped up, but I did go through a full winter. I live in Fairfield, and usually winters are tough. With the caveat that 2015–16 was a mild winter, I was astonished at how much less propane I used. My usage last winter was one-third of what it was before. It’s hard to know how much of that was the weather and how much was the improvements we made. But there’s no doubt the floor in my house was more comfortable to walk around barefoot on last winter. The basement is definitely warmer, too.

How old was the house when the project started?

SF: Only about 20 years old, but it wasn’t originally built with a lot of attention to energy efficiency. There was room for improvement.

All the work was done in 2015. It was an absurdly busy year for me because I was writing a book in addition to doing my regular consulting work [on organic and grass-based livestock production]. But we got this phase finished, and we’ve talked about doing a second phase to make further improvements.