Button Up Vermont Workshop

Last week I attended a Button Up Vermont workshop, hosted by Efficiency Vermont, geared toward those affected by the recent Irene flooding.  Efficiency Vermont is an organization committed to teaching Vermonters how to reduce energy costs, choose more sustainable energy sources and to increase the use of local energy. Many flood victims are forced to rebuild portions or all of their homes, choose new heating systems, choose new insulation, buy new appliances and much more; therefore, Efficiency Vermont is aiming to guide people to energy efficient choices.

The workshop announcement sparked my interest for three reasons. (1) Since the workshop was geared towards post flood recovery, it would discuss cleanup such as mold and moisture concerns, which is currently one of my main concerns. (2) We do need to buy a new heating system, and we are trying to decide between oil or wood pellets or both. (3) Also, I was curious to hear what they would say about windows and historic materials. Would they advocate replacement or maintaining what is existing?

To my delight, one of the first things the presenters discussed was mold and moisture. Fun, right? Much of it was geared toward wood and fabric, not concrete. But, I think here is where I solidified my idea to scrub the basement walls. More on that particular endeavor another time. It was generally helpful in the sense that it made me feel better as we had done many of the right things so far. And, it was a good reminder of what we still needed to accomplish. Many people had questions about dirt floor basements or mold on furniture.

Regarding heating systems, it is something I know little about (first time homeowner here!) so I appreciate any discussion on the different systems. Efficiency Vermont offers rebates and incentives to buy certain systems (that goes for appliances, too).

Now, about windows. I am relieved and proud to hear that Efficiency Vermont said that new windows are not worth it; the payback required for the ridiculously expensive windows is much too long. Hooray! That was exciting for me, a historic window lover.

The main part of the workshop (it was more like a lecture, than a workshop) was the discussion about insulation, specifically spray foam insulation. Yuck. I do not like any of it, partially because I have a hard time believing that it’s not toxic in some way (off gases?) and partially because I think it’s ugly. All insulation is generally hideous looking, but something about spray foam creeps me out. Am I crazy? Anyway, while I know energy efficiency is related to insulation, I tend to care less about wall insulation because I want my house to breathe. So if that means a drafty house, I am okay with it. (I know, I expect a lot of disagreement here.) I was disappointed by the emphasis on this insulation, but a lot of people do have to replace the insulation on their first floors, so the discussions were appropriate for the setting.

Overall, I’m glad I attended the workshop. After all, maintenance is preservation and preservation is maintenance, right? Has anyone else been to something similar? What did you think?


6 thoughts on “Button Up Vermont Workshop

  1. jenhallie says:

    I’d be interested in talking to you about this after the winter…I think there are many compromises one has to make when owning a home in terms of the ideal vs. the reality of affordability. Between being cold vs. preserving historic fabric, even though I’m a preservationist, I really believe that the average person deserves to be warm in an affordable fashion–but I’ve lived for too many years solely on wood heat. I think something has to give–if you are keeping original windows, than you may need to insulate the rest of the house more thoroughly–and this may mean using spray foam. A drafty house is one thing, but a house that is out of your range of affordability to heat–and we’re not talking keeping the house in the 70s but in the 50s all winter long at that, is something that preservationists need to take into account as to why people are willing to make their homes so “ugly” with vinyl window replacements and other things that erode the beauty of the historic home. No one wants an ugly house, but no one deserves to be cold, either. I also think that quite often it is elderly people who live in older homes, and they tend to be colder and unable to manage the extra work that a historic home may require to keep it warm; i.e., maintaining a wood stove.
    Just putting more grist into this, Kaitlin. –Jen

    • Kaitlin says:

      You know I love a good debate, Jen. I did neglect to mention that my windows have metal storms on the outside, which we’ll be sure to close during the cold months. I also believe that people should be warm in their houses. I hate being cold in my house. Regarding insulation, I’m not against it, but the substances just freak me out a bit.

      In terms of ugly vinyl windows however — the heat is not being lost through the windows. A minimal amount is lost, as you know. Insulating the roof is the most important part and then the walls.

      This house, though it currently has no heating system (thanks, Irene) will probably have oil based heat once again. A wood stove would be a lot of work, and not effective probably – since we have two floors and a basement.

      Efficiency Vermont sent me a note to clarify that spray foam was only for basements. I could see how my windows might need that around the window frames, as they are just squeezed into the concrete hole. In terms of living space, I am uniformed about what to put in walls. Insulation is such a weird thing, as odd as that sounds. But insulation on those living spaces is likely not seen behind sheetrock or whatever wall surface you have. It’s just ugly when you open it up.

      But, I’ll stand my ground for historic windows. It is unnecessary to replace them. Vinyl windows are most often taking away from the historic integrity of buildings. And, I do still think spray foam is ugly. In summary, if I had to choose between a completely sealed, efficient house or one that was sort of drafty, I’d take the drafty one because I still want my house to breathe. As far as breathing insulation, I do not know anything about it, but it sounds like something I should read about. Good tip!

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