Lauren Hierl and Shane Heath bought their Montpelier home in August 2012 for their growing family, which now includes two young boys, Elias and Isaac. The house, originally built in 1965, had some weatherization work done before they purchased it, but they knew the oil furnace was outdated and not very efficient. Their first winter in the new house they spent over $3,000 on heating oil for both the furnace and their domestic hot water. As they started to consider renovations and improvements they wanted to make, their two main goals were to reduce their fossil fuel use and their energy bills. Lauren is the Political Director at Vermont Conservation Voters, and Shane is a high school science teacher in Northfield, and both share a commitment to climate change advocacy and wanted to be able to walk the talk when it came to minimizing their personal impacts on the environment.
Their first move was to install a high efficiency woodstove into an existing fireplace in the living room. This locally-made Hearthstone Stove has a built in fan to help circulate the heat through the house and allows them to heat the whole house comfortably with cordwood; now they only turn on the furnace if they are headed out of town for a few days. Shane estimates that last winter they burned 3 or 4 cords of wood, and only about 50 gallons of heating oil, despite it being one of the coldest winters in recent memory.
The next step was to look at installing solar photovoltaic panels. They already knew they needed to replace their roof, so once that was complete, they partnered with SunCommon to install 16 PV panels (5.23 kW) on their south-facing roof. They took out a 12-year loan to finance the solar panels with only a $250 down payment; their monthly loan payments are $123.99 which basically zeroes out their monthly electric bill. At the same time they also installed a heat pump electric hot water heater in their basement. And they got rid of their old gas lawnmower and replaced it with an electric version. Last year their PV array produced over 4800 kilowatt hours of electricity.
The family was able to take advantage of a variety of incentives for these projects, accessing a federal tax credit for the woodstove and solar panels, as well as rebates from Efficiency Vermont for the heat pump hot water heater, and a new refrigerator and washing machine.
Going forward, Shane and Lauren are hoping to do some additional weatherization work to tighten up their house more, and are thinking about buying an electric vehicle in the future.