Winter is Coming: Keep Your Home Warm While Lowering Energy Costs
Sofia Reali, Energy Efficiency Fellow, discusses ways Mainers can combat rising energy costs by taking advantage of programs like weatherization, electrification, and incentives offered by organizations like Efficiency Maine to make their homes more energy-efficient and reduce their energy expenses.
With fall quickly approaching and colder temperatures right around the corner it's time to start thinking about how to keep your home warm this winter in the face of higher energy costs. The price of heating oil hit a record high in 2022 and Maine is particularly at risk of drastic price increases and supply disruptions because of the state's dependence on it to heat so many of our homes. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) nearly 60% of households in Maine rely on heating oil to heat their homes.
Too many households will continue to struggle to afford the costs of energy in a time when the price of food, rent, and so many other things are also on the rise. In Maine especially it is low-income families who will take the brunt of this burden. According to a study done by Synapse for the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, the average home energy burden for low-income households in Maine is 19%. Let that sink in. There are families in Maine spending nearly 20% of their income on the cost of energy alone. This is also considerably higher than the national average energy burden of 8.6% for low-income households.
This issue is one that has preoccupied my thoughts throughout this year of service as I’ve explored different avenues of energy efficiency efforts in the state. The inequity in how this energy burden impacts lower income households is not just unfair, it can be life threatening. We need to ensure that we have investigated all options for reducing this burden. However, there are many different programs and opportunities that can help households in Maine lower their energy costs. Below are a few examples of some of these programs:
This is the process of making your home more energy efficient by taking steps to improve its resistance to the effects of cold temperatures, heat, and wind. Weatherizing your home can significantly help reduce energy consumption and lower heating and cooling costs. Some options for Maine households include:
WindowDressers: WindowDressers is a nonprofit that provides low-cost insulating window inserts that function as interior storm windows to help lower heating costs and reduce emissions for renters and homeowners alike. Since 2010, WindowDressers’ inserts have helped save over 2.6 million gallons of heating fuel with over 58,009 inserts built.
Thermal image of a home with and without window inserts.
Maine State Housing Authority: MaineHousing’s Weatherization Program gives grants to low-income renters and homeowners to improve their home energy efficiency and lower energy costs.These improvements can include better insulation, weather-stripping, caulking, and framing or repairing windows and doors.
Electrification provides an opportunity to improve overall energy efficiency, energy waste and energy costs. According to Rewiring America, electrifying space and water heating could reduce energy costs for 559,000 households in Maine. A household using heating oil would save $1,079 per year on average if they electrified. Electrification also reduces Maine’s dependency on fossil fuels as 72% of the State’s electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2021 making it one of the cleanest in the country.
Electrify Everything: Many towns throughout Maine have launched Electrify Everything programs with the goal of improving energy efficiency in existing buildings and to run everything on clean renewable electricity. These programs provide rebates and incentives to local residents for things such as electric heating and cooling systems, home weatherization, electric vehicles, e-bikes, etc. Keep an eye out for the third round of Portland’s Electrify Everything program coming this fall.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA): The IRA is providing incentives for households of any income level with electrification rebates for low and moderate-income households and tax credits for high-income households. See Rewiring America’s Savings Calculator to learn what rebates and tax credits you might be eligible for.
Efficiency Maine has an assortment of rebates and incentives for households to make energy efficiency improvements. These improvements include things such as energy efficient heat pumps, water heaters, insulation, lighting, etc. Visit their Energy and Money Saving Tips page for additional tricks and tips on ways to further your energy savings.
While these resources are not the end all be all to the issue at hand, they may just provide enough leeway for households to lower their energy costs this year. I remain hopeful that new incentives and opportunities lie ahead for Maine as the landscape of our energy systems begins to shift towards a more sustainable future.
Sofia grew up in Cumberland, ME. She studied at the University of Vermont where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. She now calls Portland, ME home again and is eager to serve communities in Maine to help grow and adapt to the constantly changing challenges they face. After graduating Sofia was an Ecosystems Governance Intern at SustainaMetrix in Portland, ME where she explored how market forces, government and civil society interact and work together to build and support systems of change. Sofia feels most at peace in the outdoors whether it be running, hiking, or walking along the coastal waters of Maine. In her free time, she likes to volunteer for the Friends of Casco Bay and consults for the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine(E2Tech). She understands the importance of community engagement and outreach when it comes to building long-term resiliency within communities. Sofia is interested in regional and community planning which is why she is excited to join the Resilience Corps Fellowship with GPCOG.