Essex and Essex Jct. led more than 30 Vermont communities in Efficiency Vermont’s Button Up campaign this fall with nearly 100 locals taking a first step toward weatherizing their homes.
Ninety-three residents signed up for a free visit from a contractor since the Essex Energy Committee joined the Button Up Campaign in October – a month after it had already began – nearly doubling up on the second-place community.
Button Up Vermont began as a parade in Newport in the early 1980s and was revived about 10 years ago in response to a spike in heating prices, according to Rebecca Foster, Efficiency Vermont’s executive director who outlined the campaign in an op-ed distributed to media outlets last month. Foster said Button Up reached more Vermonters this year and every before: More than 600 people downloaded do-it-yourself project forms since October, and more than 500 Vermonters completed home energy projects with contractors. She expected that number to reach 700 by the new year.
Will Dodge, chairman of the Essex Energy Committee, noted weatherization has been identified as a major priority in Vermont’s goal to source 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. That plan targets a goal of insulating and air sealing 80,000 homes by 2020.
“What this effort underscores for me is just how difficult getting people to do weatherization really is, and how much time and human energy it takes,” Dodge said.
The energy committee was required to host at least two community engagement activities and distribute a free LED lightbulb to residents and property owners, who needed to commit to undertake at least one new energy-efficient action in their homes. Residents could record their progress on the Community Energy Dashboard, which tracks Vermont communities and individuals.
Button Up Vermont’s website shows dozens of winter preparation explainers, such as ways to weatherize homes and ensure hot water efficiency. It also includes a long list of DIY projects, from turning down the thermostat to air sealing an attic — with demonstrational videos, too.
Dodge credited three outreach efforts over the course of one week in November. First, committee members hit the pavement with a list of some of Essex’s oldest homes, talking with residents or leaving personalized fliers on their doors. The next day, members hosted a table at the Essex Middle School polls, nearly running out of fliers in the process, and later that week, held an informational session at Founders Memorial. The efforts seem to have paid off.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” Dodge said. “It proves not only the commitment of my energy committee members but also that when you find the right time to make an ask of people, like during an election, you really can see some positive results.”
The committee still has work to do. Dodge said its job now is following up with everyone who requested the walkthrough to encourage them to continue by hiring a contractor to quote some of the necessary work. Dodge noted those who commit to doing some of the projects before Earth Day, April 22, can receive some incentives from Efficiency Vermont.
Dodge said the process has shown him the state needs to offer more financial incentives, like tax rebates or a direct subsidy, because there’s clear enthusiasm among Vermonters to try and address weatherization and the benefits it can provide to the state’s energy saving goals.
“But when it comes time to actually pay the bill, if the state doesn’t kick in more funds, it’s hard to know whether those free contractor visits are really going to pay off,” he said.