March 29, 2020

Energy expo draws crowd in Augusta

AUGUSTA – In trying to “cure” a house leaking heat and wasting electricity, Stephen and Tricia Carr use the same sort of holistic approach advocated by some physicians to treat sick people.

The couple’s energy auditing business, Wydevue, analyzes a house’s energy use with various measuring devices. But the Carrs also try to connect with the homeowners to learn just how they live, and what kinds of fixes they can afford or are willing to take on.

Wydevue was one of several dozen exhibitors at the first Maine Energy Expo at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday and Sunday.

With many predicting a spike in home heating fuel prices when cold weather sets in, those attending the expo were more than casually interested in the products and services.

Wydevue, named for Stephen Carr’s family farm in Houlton, is based in Poland, but the business is seeking more work in northern and eastern Maine. For about $250, a company representative visits the house, discusses fuel consumption, reviews fuel and electric bills, and conducts tests on the house.

One effective tool, Stephen Carr said, is a fabric device that hangs in an exterior door jamb with a fan that sucks the air out of the house. The device depressurizes the house and measures the volume and speed of the air passing through it.

Ideally, Carr said, about one-third of a house’s air should be exchanged with outside air each hour. Any more than this results in high heating bills, and any less can produce unhealthy air quality.

Once the house is depressurized, Carr will walk through the rooms, using a smoke device near windows to locate leaks. A visual inspection of the house is also completed, including looking at the attic and basement.

Common problems are:

. Broken ceiling hatches that lead to the attic.

. A leaking basement bulkhead door.

. Uninsulated plumbing or chimney chases.

. Insufficient insulation in walls and attic.

“We have the oldest housing stock on the East Coast,” Carr said, so there are often plenty of areas where heat loss can be prevented.

For older houses, Wydevue usually recommends blown-in cellulose insulation. If installed properly, the boric acid-treated material, which repels insects and mice, can achieve an R-49 insulation value in the roof.

Walls present more challenges, with older houses having bridging between studs that prevents the insulation from filling the cavities without more work.

Wydevue has developed partnerships with boiler companies, insulation firms, and even a solar-power business so it can recommend such services and products to its customers. But Tricia Carr stressed that Wydevue does not pressure homeowners into any purchases.

For the $250 cost of the audit, the homeowner receives a report suggesting areas of improvement in heating and electric usage savings.

To save electricity, the Carrs said consumers should purchase only certified Energy Star appliances. The biggest electricity draw in a home is a refrigerator, they said, so that is a likely place to start replacing older appliances.

The Carrs agreed that spray foam insulation is the most effective, but it often is too costly for many homeowners.

Tony Michaud of the Bangor-based business Foam Pro Inc. said the Icynene foam insulation his company uses costs about 50 percent more than fiberglass insulation. But with a payback of as little as two years in savings on heating costs, Michaud believes his product is an easy sell.

The foam is sprayed on wet between studs and rafters, and expands 100 times in size within eight seconds. The excess is sliced off with a reciprocating saw, leaving an air-tight, closed-cell seal.

At the Foam Pro booth, Michaud had a Plexiglas box with three chambers sitting over a box with a heat fan. The air in the box at the bottom was 105.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Above the chamber stuffed with fiberglass insulation, the air was 93 degrees, indicating a substantial heat loss. Above the chamber stuffed with cellulose insulation, the air measured 86.5 degrees, indicating a slightly better heat retention.

But above the chamber filled with foam, the air was 75.6 degrees, which Michaud said showed the effectiveness of his product.

Pingpong balls over the first two chambers were suspended in air by the rising heat, while the ball over the foam chamber was stationary.

The busiest booth at the expo was Aubuchon Hardware’s, where the retail chain was selling compact fluorescent light bulbs of 40, 60, 75 and 100 watts for 50 cents each. Customers were lined three and four deep, with some buying cases of 25 bulbs.

The bulbs give on average a 66 percent savings in electricity, a lighting representative said. The bulbs last 8,000 to 10,000 hours, compared to 750 to 1,000 hours for incandescent bulbs, he added.

Some 60 percent of European households now use compact fluorescent bulbs, he said, compared to 11 percent of U.S. households. That percentage may change. Aubuchon staff said they sold 15,000 bulbs at the Bangor Home Show in April. Currently, utility companies in Maine give the retailer a $2 rebate for bulbs sold. But that drops to $1.50 in January.

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