May 12, 2013

Insulation warmly received on Monhegan

With island fuel costs soaring over mainland prices, improved energy efficiency is a boon.

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

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Contractors and equipment arrive on Monhegan, via landing vehicle, to take part in an Island Institute program to make Maine island homes more energy efficient. The workers eliminated air leaks in island homes by caulking cracks, installing weatherstripping and applying spray insulation.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Scott Braley caulks a window frame to make a Monhegan Island home more energy efficient.

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ELECTRICITY: 70 cents per kilowatt hour vs. 15 cents

PROPANE: $5.53 a gallon vs. $2.75 a gallon

FIREWOOD: $400-$500 a cord vs. $220 a cord

KEROSENE: $4.76 a gallon vs. $3.96 a gallon

Source: Examples based on statewide averages and market prices.

"It's hard when you're a little community, 11 miles out to sea, and you're dependent on global energy markets," MacDonald says.

One response, organized by the Island Institute, is Weatherization Week.

The program began last year in Penobscot Bay, on Vinalhaven. An energy auditor and weatherization company, Home Energy Answers from Albion, went out to identify and plug the most-obvious thermal leaks in eight homes.

They used spray foam to fill cracks and create a thermal blanket along foundations and sills. They boxed chimneys with flashing, and caulked and weatherstripped doors and windows. These and other measures are considered the most cost-effective ways to cut heat loss in older buildings. Fuel costs typically are trimmed by 15-20 percent with basic air-sealing, and more with additional insulation.

It's no big thing to get a spray-foam truck to drive to your house on the mainland, but it's a challenge to bring one to Monhegan. The Island Institute had to interest a critical mass of residents, in order to make the trip feasible. It arranged for the 65-foot landing vessel Reliance to meet the weatherization crew in Port Clyde at high tide. And somehow, it was able to schedule the crossing on a morning when the weather was clear and the sea was calm.

Island ingenuity also helped. After an hour at sea, the Reliance lowered its ramps on Fish Beach. The falling tide remained just high enough. Islanders were waiting with a Bobcat loader to lift and drag the spray-foam trailer off the vessel and up the sandy road into the village. Next came the foam truck. It scraped its metal bumper descending the ramp, but was able to scurry up the beach.

The drive to the Boyntons' house was uneventful, up a hill, past Monhegan's one-room schoolhouse and into the dark, piney woods.

The house is perched on a hillside, overlooking the sea. Like many island homes, it rose in stages. Doug Boynton built the main house and subsequent additions between 1974 and 2007. It has a good southern exposure and south-facing glass, which tempers heating demand.

"It's probably one of the most energy-efficient houses on Monhegan, but that's not saying much," Boynton said.

When residents talk about the heating season here, they are more likely to mention the incessant wind than the cold temperatures.

"There's just no getting away from the wind," he said. "The wind defines winters here."

Heating oil isn't delivered to the island, and most homes are warmed with a combination of fuels, notably wood, propane and kerosene. To stay warm last heating season, the Boynton house burned three cords of wood, at $500 a cord, and $1,200 worth of propane. The electric bill ran roughly $2,500. Inside, a wood stove is centrally located in the living room. An old Rinnai propane heater hangs on the wall. Out back, another ancient Rinnai takes the chill off Alice Boynton's north-facing painting studio.

Soon the weatherization crew arrived. They installed a blower-door in the front entrance, a device that depressurizes the building to reveal air movement. It didn't take long to identify outside air pulling through an attic door, the space around the chimney and behind window framing.

In the cellar, workers began tearing out ineffective fiberglass insulation hung between floor joists. They sprayed two inches of foam along the sills and floors, effectively sealing the foundation and adding a consistent thermal value to the floor decking. Outside, another worker stapled weatherstripping to the art studio's exterior door.

While the Boynton house was being finished, Keith McPherson, owner of Home Energy Anwers, drove to Barbara Hitchcock's house. Her home, which also is a guest house, is set on a hill that offers views of the village, lighthouse and meadows.

It's a classic island dwelling, cobbled together with additions dating back to 1905. Hitchcock was in line for the spray-foam treatment. The question was whether the foam truck could squeeze through narrow island trails, to get close enough to the house for the spray hose to reach. McPherson had to check carefully with a tape measure to calculate the distance.

Since last July, the Island Institute has helped set up 150 homes for weatherization, 100 of them on Peaks Island. The group estimates that residents will save a total of $65,000 a year from basic air-sealing alone.

The group also has organized workshops for residents to build interior storm windows. The 100 windows made last winter are expected to cut heating bills by $6,000 a year. Taken together, these energy improvements not only save money, MacDonald said, but add measurable comfort that makes year-round island living more agreeable.

"The islands are just so much more exposed to the elements," she said. "This is the reality of people's daily lives. You feel the wind blowing straight through the house."

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


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Additional Photos

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Mike Braley checks a gauge that tests for air leaks.

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Brandon Currie climbs out of a crawl space under a home after sealing air leaks.

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Brandon Currie of C & C Spray Foam of Clinton applies spray insulation to seal leaks beneath a Monhegan Island home.

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