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Montpelier Homeowners Go Fossil Fuel Free!

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485 Elm Street in Montpelier.
Photo credit: Photo Credit: Kate Stephenson

Source: Kate Stephenson - Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee

Chris Adams and Sheryl Rapée-Adams are the owners of Massage Vermont. When they decided to re-locate their home and business from Rutland to Montpelier in 2013, they started looking for an in-town property with good solar exposure. The perfect property could be renovated to house their business as well as themselves.

Planning for upgrades

After searching the real estate market, they came across a 4100 square foot ranch on Elm Street that had been built in 1961. Working closely with Malcolm Gray of Montpelier Construction, they came up with a comprehensive plan to renovate the house for their business needs while also upgrading mechanical systems, air tightness, and insulation. Immediately upon moving in, they embarked on major renovations which included replacing all electrical wiring, windows and doors, floors, and the house’s heating system. They completed comprehensive air sealing in the attic and basement, and added 24” of cellulose to the attic floor (replacing about 4” of original fiberglass batts).

Forgoing fossil fuel

The house had been heated with all electric baseboards when it was originally built, but these were later replaced by an oil boiler and hydronic baseboard. These were then replaced during their energy retrofit with a ground-source heat pump, which pulls energy from water in wells drilled in the backyard which remain at a constant temperature year-round.

They installed a 10 kW photovoltaic array on ground mounts in their backyard, which produces about 75% of the electricity they use every year (including the electricity consumed by their electric car, a Chevy Volt). Their only fossil fuel use now is for the propane generator which they only use when the power goes out.

Using every inch

In addition, once Chris and Sheryl realized how much lawn they’d have to mow every summer, they started looking for ways to re-purpose the green space on their 2.2 acres. They collaborated with the Friends of the Winooski and US Fish and Wildlife to plant 7/10ths of an acre of riparian buffer along their frontage on the North Branch of the Winooski River.

They also founded The Garden at 485 Elm, a community garden which offers affordable growing space for local residents to produce fresh, healthy, delicious food, culinary herbs, and medicinal herbs for themselves and their families. The Garden at 485 Elm‘s mission is to increase food security, nutritional health, and community participation for residents of and near Montpelier while improving the health of the environment where food grows and reducing the carbon footprint for producing and distributing food. Over time, they also hope to add more Permaculture plantings and perennial gardens to reduce the amount of lawn even further, and dream of connecting with neighbors along the river to conserve the river corridor.

Chris and Sheryl’s main motivation to do this work was philosophical- they wanted to leave something that was better than the way they found it, and invest their resources in a way that aligned with their beliefs and priorities. They were also able to take advantage of extensive incentives through Efficiency Vermont and the Federal Energy Investment Tax Credit to offset some of the renovation costs.