Homeowners down with Button Up Vermont

As winter closes in, temperatures drop, resulting in the rise of something else: utility bills.”Our energy bills have been manageable, but they’ve definitely gone up in the last few months,” junior Gisele Nelson said after watching a presentation by Button-Up Vermont on Tuesday, Nov. 4.The workshop on home energy saving was just one in a series of non-academic “Catamount Classes” offered by the Office of Student and Community Relations and Student Life Campus Programs.A total of 28 people came together to hear Keith Levenson, a project manager from the Vermont Energy Efficiency Service, teach them how make the most of energy use in their homes.The crowd consisted of everyone from longtime home owners to first-time renters, all looking to reduce the impact winter has on their finances, and some looking to reduce their own impacts upon the environment.”Our house was built in the 1950s. We already know we have to buy a new furnace, redo the insulation … weatheriz[e] the house,” couple Jillian Prentiss and Patrick Niggel said. They had just closed on their first home the Monday before in Essex.”We’re fully planning on hiring Efficiency Vermont and planning on getting some rebates going on here,” they said.By working with Efficiency Vermont, Prentiss and Niggel will receive technical assistance and financial incentives to make their home more sustainable.Unlike most U.S. states, Vermont does not leave it up to the monopolized utility companies to manage the demand for power (helping people to reduce their demand), as well as distribute it.Through the Vermont Public Service Board, Vermont contracted Efficiency Vermont to be the first state-wide provider of energy efficiency services in the nation.According to Levenson, Efficiency Vermont has been able to reduce the cost of energy simply by reducing the demand for it, effectively lowering the cost of energy in total.” One kilowatt-hour generated through energy efficiency programs like Efficiency Vermont costs about two to three cents.  A wholesale kilowatt-hour from New Generation would cost something like six to seven cents,” Levenson said. In college towns like Burlington, first-time student-renters make up a considerable number of the home and apartment dwellers, as well as energy users. “Over the summer it wasn’t hard, things like computers were used way less,” junior Laura Davidson, who is living off campus for the first time, said. “Now during the school year, everyone’s on their computer. I think they’re more apt to get left plugged in and left on.”According to the Community and Economic Development Office of Burlington, “over a quarter of the city’s residents are enrolled in college and graduate school and of the 10,163 college/graduate students living in Burlington, around 60 percent (6,103) do not live in dorms.”For students, energy efficiency solutions are different from what they are for community members who own their homes.In general, there is a lack of  home energy conservation education for residents, and therefore a lack of realizing the many opportunities to be sustainable energy consumers. “Renters don’t have an incentive because they don’t own the buildings, so why should  they pay to improve it for the next tenant,” Levenson said.According to the Efficiency Vermont homepage, Energy Star certified appliances can save you up to $150 a year on energy bills, and energy audits and home improvements can reduce your energy consumption by 30 percent.However, as Levenson continued to explain, “…landlords to a large extent don’t have a big incentive either because they’re not paying the utility bills for the most part.”An energy-conscious landlord can even make a perspective apartment more attractive to renters.”Before we moved into the house, our landlord installed a bunch of new energy efficient things. It definitely made us feel better about our apartment choice and who our landlord was,” Davidson said.With programs such as Button Up Vermont increasing education, the shift to smarter, more sustainable home-energy use is becoming a reality for all varieties of home owners and renters.According to Levenson, teaching students about energy use is a lot like the way the environmental movement works. By providing first-time renters with this knowledge, they hope to see an informed energy network created.  “If you teach the residents to see these opportunities, then they’re going to start talking to their landlords and their property managers about them,” Levenson said. “The renter market, especially students, needs an incentive to improve those buildings they’re living in, and that’s a tough nut to crack,” Levenson said.  “This is one way that we’re starting to crack that nut.”Smiling with their complimentary window sealing kits in hand, the final attendees headed out of Pearl House, watching their breaths turn into vapor clouds in the fall night.