Maine Governor Baldacci with Violet Smith outside her home that has been weatherized. Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

October 19th, 2009


Last summer, crews of young adults spread out across the state to weatherize homes for people who need them insulated from winter’s frigid temperatures, and to help people insulate themselves from high oil prices. Over 80 percent of Maine’s homes and businesses still heat by oil.

At the end of August, Governor John E. Baldacci joined members of his Young Mainers Weatherization Corps to see Violet Smith’s home being weatherized in Bangor.

Smith was born in 1920 and has lived in a classic, turn-of-the-century, big house for 35 years. A few years back, she closed off half the house to save on heating expenses. As costs continued to rise, she tried renting extra space.

“Now, even if the Pope wanted to rent, I’d have to turn him down,” quipped Smith, referring to her rental experience.

But without rentals, on a fixed income, she has had to cut back on some necessities because of heating oil costs. That’s why she was so pleased with the work the Weatherization Corps was doing on her house. This winter she’ll save at least up to a third in the cost of heating, thanks to their efforts.

“It is already warmer than it has been. I’m very grateful to have them do the house and to have such nice men working,” said Smith.

Two tons of environmentally friendly insulation has been put into Smith’s home to make it more energy efficient, cutting heating costs. The attic was cleared out, insulated, and sealed. Foam boards were added to walls and other measures taken. So far, the weatherization team had put in 80 hours, on 14-hour days.

“There was no insulation in the house at all. The heat was all going out through the sides of the house and the porch. We pulled up the floorboards and put insulation in there and through the walls,” said Jamie Goodall of Bangor.

To check on their progress, the team of three young men take infrared photos of the house, to identify where there might be additional heat leaks.

“Once the heat leaks are identified, we move in to fix them. It’s high-tech,” said Goodall. “It’s satisfying knowing you’re helping someone stay warm. Violet would turn down the heat to save money, she’s 89.”

The Governor’s Young Mainers Weatherization Corps program uses recovery act stimulus funds under the Workforce Investment Act to teach work and life skills to Mainers between the ages of 18 and 24. Youth who graduate from the program have received weatherization training, OSHA safety training, and workforce training.

The governor said the program is Maine’s version of the Civilian Conservation Corps, created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“Roosevelt wanted to give young people who needed work during the Depression employment. The CCC planted thousands of trees across the country. Here, we are training young people to work in the growing sector of clean-energy jobs. There are a lot of homes to weatherize in Maine,” said Baldacci.

The skills learned in the Weatherization Corps can lead to other opportunities.

“I’d like to do this as my lifelong career,” said Goodall, who has also applied to receive power tools from the program and is grateful for the opportunity. “I’m 24; I just qualified. I was out of work for ten months before I got this job. I believe I’ve been given my future.”

About 60 young workers are participating in the Young Mainers Weatherization Corps around the state and have helped to weatherize homes in their communities this summer.

“I was a welder; I’ve learned a new set of carpentry skills. These are tools that I’ll take with me, whatever I do. Two of my friends decided to apply because they heard about the program from me. It’s great,” said 18-year-old Adam Smith of Corinth. He and the other members of his team heard about the program through the local Career Center. “I saw the sign and applied. It sure feels good helping people.”

Under the governor’s plan, the goal is to weatherize 100 percent of homes and 50 percent of businesses by 2030.

“Recovery act funds helped launched the program. Now people can see the benefits and savings that can be made from weatherization. We are looking to make Maine an energy exporter, with wind and other clean-energy sources. We want to move that energy along transportation corridors, where the state would benefit from leasing land to companies that use it. That revenue would then go back into weatherizing homes like this one throughout the state,” said Baldacci. “Getting young people involved at the beginning of this clean energy effort was important. So, they can be engaged in this whole growing field, which will be the next economic boon for America.”

A comprehensive energy bill, finalized during the 124th legislative session, created the Efficiency Maine Trust and Board, which will direct tens of millions of dollars into weatherization, conservation, and efficiency programs. It includes a 20-fold increase in weatherization.

The corps is part of a larger statewide program under the Workforce Investment Act Summer Youth Employment Program that has put about 714 young people to work.

The Young Mainers Weatherization Corps is a partnership between MaineHousing, the Maine Department of Labor, the four local Workforce Investment Boards, CAP agencies, and LearningWorks.