March 2, 2013

How to spend $600 to cut heating bills?

A proposed LePage administration rebate would be best used to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a home, not to buy a new system, experts say.

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Bruce Merryman, project manager for Evergreen Home Performance, points to an open area around a chimney to be insulated as apartments in South Portland are weatherized last week.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Michael Bunker, left, and Eddie Elwell of Evergreen Home Performance wrap insulation around heating ducts while weatherizing South Portland apartments. The most cost-effective way to spend $600 in most Maine homes is on weatherization and air-sealing.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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These cost comparisons also suggest that $600 doesn't provide much of an incentive to make large investments that require financing.

"Everything is helpful, because we live in difficult times," said Les Otten, president of Maine Energy Systems in Bethel. "But I don't think $600 is enough for someone to convert from one fuel to another."

Otten's company sells wood-pellet boilers that cost $14,000 to $20,000 installed. He hasn't sold many for Maine homes, focusing instead on businesses and out-of-state markets. In New Hampshire, a state rebate program last year offset 30 percent of the cost of a new pellet boiler.

But for many Mainers, natural gas holds the promise of more-affordable heating bills. Expanding access to gas is a priority of the LePage administration.

Even without the incentive, Unitil Corp. added 1,000 new gas customers last year in Maine, and hopes to connect 2,000 this year. It's focusing its efforts on the estimated 30,000 homes and businesses within 100 feet of a main line.

"There's a lot of opportunity for conversion," said Unitil spokesman Alec O'Meara. "It's going to be a huge priority for our business in the next five years."

Unitil doesn't charge extra for digging a service line within 100 feet of its main lines. Beyond that, costs can rise steeply, especially if ledge is present.

Air sealing and insulation might be a better investment for residents living beyond 100 feet from gas lines, O'Meara said. Unitil has a program that doubles Efficiency Maine's $600 air sealing rebate. Crews were using the extra money to upgrade attic insulation at Mill Company Gardens, which has gas heat.

But O'Meara stopped short of offering an opinion about whether air sealing should be done before switching fuels.

"Each home is different," he said. "The homeowner is going to make that call."

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:


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