This month, my landlord will install new energy-efficient windows in my apartment. This is great news: Better insulation will reduce both my energy use and my heating bills. I'm happy to be experiencing first-hand what many agree is the single most-important step in the fight against global warming: eco-friendly building upgrades and weatherization.
In this country, commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 40 percent of total energy use, according to the US Department of Energy. It behooves us, then, to take all possible steps toward reducing that consumption, whether through small steps (replacing lightbulbs) or large (installing a new heating or cooling systems).
There are many local examples that suggest Maine is taking the energy-efficiency movement seriously.
• The state used some Recovery Act stimulus money to launch the YOUNG MAINERS WEATHERIZATION CORPS, a program that's training approximately 60 young people between 18 and 24 to retrofit the state's ancient housing stock.
• In July, HANNAFORD OPENED A NEW STORE in Augusta, which it branded "a one-of-a-kind learning laboratory for environmental gains." In addition to a new focus on natural and organic products (clearly an attempt to position itself somewhere between elitist Whole Foods and generic Wal-Mart), the store employs a solar-panel array, a new refrigeration system that uses 50 percent less energy than its predecessor, and a reclaimed building site (in the footprint of the former Cony High School building).
• The Acadia heating and cooling system, manufactured by Hallowell International in Bangor, made this year's Sustainable Industries Top 10 Green Building Products. The HEAT PUMP, which runs on electricity and uses a patented compressor that allows it to work without relying on a back-up heat source, uses about 30 percent less energy than a standard heating system. It is similar in efficiency to a geothermal heat pump, but costs less. And it can be used for businesses or homes. (Other products on the list were the "Inspire Wall," which uses the sun to heat trapped air behind an aluminum panel; the "Separett Villa," a urine-diverting composting toilet; and "Serious Windows," which are so effective that they can cut a building's energy costs by 50 percent — and which my landlord won't use, sadly.)
• Last month, a 43-UNIT APARTMENT BUILDING opened at 53 Danforth Street in downtown Portland. It's billing itself as an eco-friendly establishment — solar panels, motion-sensing lights, and a $40-per-month rent reduction for tenants who don't have cars. This building, too, makes use of a site that previously held a different structure. The complex sits where a one-story parking garage used to; it's safe to say that this is a smarter use. MaineHousing provided a $2 million tax credit, a $1.65 million subsidy, and a $3 million loan for the project, according to Governor John Baldacci's office.
• Speaking of MaineHousing, the state agency announced back in January that it would dedicate $2 million toward WEATHERIZING 425 HOMES in Maine. It's far surpassed that goal; MaineHousing spokesman Peter Merrill says approximately 1050 homes have been retrofitted so far.
• Even without state weatherization money, generous (smart) landlords, or Inspire Walls, there are STEPS YOU CAN TAKE to make your building more efficient. (I've mentioned almost all of them before, but they bear repeating.) Replace your electricity-guzzlers with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (lighting accounts for about 10 percent of energy costs). Insulate with plastic sheeting during the colder months, if your windows are drafty. Install low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and toilet dams (all available for low cost through Portland Water District — pwd.org). Lower the temperature on your hot water heater (water heating accounts for between 15 and 25 percent of home-energy use). Pay attention to how much energy your appliances and electronics use (it's usually about 20 percent).
Deirdre Fulton can be reached at email@example.com.