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Better Buildings gets off the ground in Plymouth


February 01, 2011
PLYMOUTH—Is your house cold or drafty? Do you feel like you might be paying too much for your heating bills?

If you are a home or business owner in Plymouth, there is no time like the present to look into the possibility of undertaking an energy efficiency upgrade on your property.

Right now, Plymouth residents and business owners are able to take advantage of an unusual opportunity, made possible through the Better Buildings Initiative, designed to make the energy efficiency upgrade process "user friendly" and potentially much cheaper.

Through a special federal grant through the Department of Energy, Plymouth has been chosen as one of three towns in New Hampshire, with Berlin and Nashua, to receive a share of $10 million in assistance so that each community can serve as a testing ground to demonstrate the effectiveness of strategies to reduce energy usage in homes, businesses and public buildings.

There is a great deal of help available to allow the Plymouth community to become a model of energy efficiency to save fuel and money.

Better Buildings has recently opened an office right in downtown Plymouth, at 85 Main St., above Cafe Monte Alto and Chase Street Market.

Longtime local Plymouth resident and Plymouth State University Environmental Studies Program graduate Madeline McElaney has been appointed Community Manager for Plymouth. Her job is to shepherd home and business owners through the sometimes complicated and bewildering process of evaluating the energy efficiency of their existing home or business, choosing an effective strategy to reduce energy consumption, and understanding the myriad of grants, tax incentives and other programs that currently exist to help the consumer implement that strategy.

The first step in the process is to make an appointment with McElaney, who will help set you up with a qualified contractor to conduct an energy audit of your home or business. When the results are in, she can help you select from a menu of suggested measures to choose the strategy that is right for you, given your objectives and circumstances.

For the next few months, Better Buildings is offering grants to support homeowners and businesses who want to undertake an energy audit, and if they undertake a project that will result in 30 percent savings or more, there is additional funding available to help them complete the work.

"We are shooting for energy savings of between 15 to 30 percent," said McElaney in an interview in her office last week. "It's pretty easy, in most cases, to identify changes to come up with that level of savings."

Better Buildings can then help connect home and business owners up with qualified contractors to do the work. McElaney can help the homeowner or business identify any financial assistance that might be out there to help pay for the work, including low interest financing through local banks, which has been made possible by the program. Better Buildings can also provide a technical advisor to serve as an advocate for the home and business owners throughout the process.

McElaney first came to Plymouth as a Plymouth Sate undergraduate. After completing her degree in Environmental Biology and Outdoor Recreation, she and her husband eventually settled in Plymouth and began their careers.

"We fell in love with Plymouth and the surrounding area," said McElaney. "My husband and I are avid rock climbers. We learned to rock climb in Rumney when were at Plymouth State. It is a huge part of our life. After graduation, I wanted to work towards protecting the things that I love — the Plymouth community itself, the White Mountain National Forest and all the outdoor recreational opportunities that we enjoy."

McElaney spent four years working at Citizen's Bank, specializing in Business Banking. She says she loved the part of her job that involved taking the time with customers to get to know their objectives and to help them understand some of the complexities of different financing mechanisms that could help them achieve their goals.

She went on do to her graduate work at PSU in Environmental Studies, and later became a volunteer with the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative, served as membership development coordinator for a time, and learned to conduct site assessments for local homeowners. Eventually, she got a job with the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, becoming a registered lobbyist on renewable energy issues and planning workshops and educational conferences on sustainable energy. She was involved in the local Plymouth Energy Committee – now the Plymouth Energy Commission.

"Plymouth was the first town in New Hampshire to vote in an official Energy Commission for the town," says McElaney. "It is neat to be part of a network of folks who are paving the way here in Plymouth."

Maybe the best qualification for her new position, however, is that McElaney has recently gone through the energy efficiency upgrade process on the home that she and her husband have owned here in Plymouth for about six years. They participated in the Home Performance with Energy Star Program through New Hampshire Electric Co-op, and had air sealing and insulation done as part of their renovation process. They estimate that they saved approximately two cords of wood a year with spray foam insulation on the underside of the house and blow-in cellulose in the attic.

"Our energy auditor told us it was like a sock and a hat for our house," says McElaney. "We noticed the difference immediately."

McElaney says she would eventually like to investigate the possibility of producing energy through solar hot water or generating electricity. But like many homeowners, she and her husband found that the best investment right now is to look at ways of saving energy, rather than producing it. It is a great place to start.

For information on the Better Buildings Plymouth Initiative or to make an appointment, call the office at 717-9138 or visit online at www.betterbuildingsnh.com.

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