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Sealing up the Statehouse

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The Vermont State House
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Source: Kevin O'Connor, EAN/University of Vermont Sustainable Vermont Internship Program

Weatherization Improvements in Vermont’s Statehouse

Construction in the capitol

Construction on Vermont’s Statehouse began almost two centuries ago, in 1833. It was finished five years later, but after a fire in January of 1837, the Statehouse was almost completely destroyed. Fortunately, some of its original facade was saved and retained when the building was reconstructed.

Like many houses and buildings in Vermont, Vermont’s State House is old.  Unfortunately, the problem with old buildings is that they are often very energy inefficient.  The US Department of Energy found that 40% of a homes total energy is lost through walls, windows and doorways.  This is generally higher in older homes and buildings.  And when your building is capped with a dome there are additional factors to consider! .  

An architect takes action

As part of an effort to demonstrate how state facilities could model the energy efficiency goals set out in the Comprehensive Energy Plan, Tricia Harper, an architect for the Department of Building & General Services, contacted Common Sense Energy (CSE) in 2013 to develop a plan to weatherize the Statehouse.

The first phase of weatherization occurred in the west-wing, which contains the ceremonial office for the Governor. The west-wing also includes the Cedar Creek Room, which has a large mural. After the west-wing was completed, the east-wing was weatherized. In these wings and in the committee rooms where the legislature meets, Tricia Harper, CSE, and several contractors decided to use spray foam in the ceilings to reduce heat energy escaping.

Meaningful materials

For the renovations, the team chose spray foam as an alternative to fiber glass insulation. Spray foam protects against moisture, which prevents the chance for the growth of mold. Spray foam is essential for older wooden homes because it reduces the risk of mold, and by extension, that of rotting wood. Spray foam not only insulates heat, it also insulates sound. State rebates and other tax deductions are offered when using spray foam and other insulators that make homes or business more energy efficient.

Tricia Harper, CSE, and several contractors decided that the most cost-effective approach to insulate the Statehouse dome attic was to first air seal it, and then apply cellulose insulation. Cellulose insulation is essentially composed of plant fiber and it offers the same benefits that spray foam does. An important advantage to cellulose is that it can be removed, though the cost is higher than spray foam. 

Efficiency pays off

With all of the installation improvements, the Statehouse saves around $2100 per year, which is around 10% savings overall. The payback for the installation weatherization improvements is estimated to only be around 10 years.

For even greater efficiency, all of the light bulbs were replaced with LED light bulbs inside the House chamber. These newly installed LED light bulbs are good for around 20 years! The previous light bulbs only lasted around one year. After the LED light bulbs were installed, it has saved around $1000-1200 annually.

For more information about Vermont's Comprehensive Energy Plan, click here.