Building community resilience one window at a time

Photo contributed

In the months preceding the arrival of Covid, the Charlotte Energy Committee and Sustainable Charlotte (formerly Transition Charlotte) joined forces with the WindowDressers organization of Maine to make and install inexpensive energy-saving window inserts in ten Charlotte homes and one community building, the Charlotte Grange. The common theme of these structures is they all had drafty or single-pane windows. That’s where the window inserts came to the rescue. The window inserts, consisting of custom-made wooden frames covered by two layers of clear shrink-fit film glazing, are much less expensive to make and far easier to install and remove than conventional storm sashes. They fit on the insides of existing windows, adding two insulating spaces. Foam gaskets around the frame perimeters provide tight seals against drafts and hold the inserts in place without fasteners. Although the program was grounded this last winter by Covid, the project is gearing up to start again in August for next winter.

This “green” energy idea germinated in the state of Maine eight years ago, when a church group made and installed simple interior storm sashes in their building’s old windows. They were so impressed by the resulting energy savings and improved comfort of the meeting space that they eventually formed a non-profit organization called WindowDressers to share this amazing low- cost solution with other area residents.

Ruah Swennerfelt helps "dress" the windows. Photo contributed
Ruah Swennerfelt helps “dress” the windows. Photo contributed.

Over the past eight years, WindowDressers has conducted over 106 community builds in Maine, has produced over 34,000 window inserts, and has saved Maine residents an estimated 1.2 million gallons of heating fuel. A window insert can save as much as one gallon of heating fuel per square foot of window per heating season. Pricing depends on the window size, with a 30- inch by 60-inch insert costing about $42.

After running successful builds in many towns throughout Maine, WindowDressers decided to branch out two years ago and see how well their technical assistance might work in six Vermont towns. In January 2020, a Charlotte chapter was created and successfully produced inserts. This year the Charlotte chapter hopes to expand to at least 30 homes. With a recent grant from the Charlotte Energy Committee, the organization will provide deep discounts for low-income Vermont residents. To further reduce costs, all recipients are asked to join other volunteers to help with the final assembly of the inserts at a community build which is scheduled for Oct. 29 – Nov. 3 at the Charlotte Grange. When the time came for volunteers to assemble the inserts, the sense of community and camaraderie was reminiscent of an old-fashioned “quilting bee.” Assembly jigs created by WindowDressers had been delivered to the community workshop site, and the room was laid out with “stations” for each stage of the assembly. The conversations among the volunteers were lively. Coffee, tea, and treats were available throughout the morning, and lunch was provided by a local caterer for the noon break. More importantly, our community was strengthened by neighbors helping neighbors.

WindowDresser’s team of Charlotte volunteers is accepting orders now for the fall build season. Our fully-vaccinated volunteers will begin measuring windows in August. The number of homes taken on by the local Community Build is limited to about 30, so interested households should sign up right away at the WindowDressers website or call (207) 596-3073.