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The Morning Commute: Riding the ACTR

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Photo credit: Addison County Transit Resources

Source: Nathaniel Blackford, Middlebury College

Irene Barna, a longstanding member of the Middlebury Community, works in the Middlebury College Office of Advancement and has worked at the College in various capacities for decades. When she learned about the harmful impacts humans were having on the environment, she decided to make changes to her lifestyle. After doing some research, she found out that home heating and transportation are big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. So, she began to make changes to her lifestyle and energy use.

Taking advantage of free rides saves time and money

Like most Middlebury residents, Irene used to drive a car to work. Eighteen years ago, she started riding the ACTR (Addison County Transit Resources). The ACTR Bus provides FREE rides around the town of Middlebury. She still has a car, but riding the ACTR allows Irene to keep her car parked, saving her money. She doesn’t have worry about mileage, oil changes, or tire changes as often as she used to. In fact, Irene has owned the same car since 1999. One of the biggest differences that has come with the change is the cost savings. Last year, Irene spent only $169 on gasoline!

Put a winter coat on your home to stay cozy and save bundles

Irene has lived in the same house for 20 years. In that time, she’s made upgrades to make her house more comfortable, more efficient, and less expensive to heat. She lives in a 960 ft2 house, which she says is definitely big enough. It also means that her baseline energy use is less, even before efficiency upgrades. She had a home energy audit done by the Structural Energy Corporation (SEC), which highlighted how she could upgrade her house’s building envelope by increasing the insulation. Insulation helps your home keep its heat. It’s like putting a nice winter coat around your home: it will stay warmer! Because of the energy audit, Irene had her basement and attic insulated, which are often places where the biggest savings can be made. Irene was able to cut her oil use to one tank each year.

Thinking ahead - heat pumps, efficient roof and community solar

Even with all these changes, Irene still worries about using oil to heat her home. Burning oil produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. She knows that natural gas, which produces fewer emissions, is available in the Middlebury community, but she worries about safety issues with the infrastructure. She is much more interested in heat pumps. Heat pumps are an emerging technology that absorbs heat from outside your home and brings it inside. They work like a refrigerator, but in reverse. They are also much more efficient and use electricity, which can be produced without emissions.

Because Irene has lived in her house for such a long time, many parts have needed to be fixed or replaced. When this happens, she tries to choose environmentally conscious methods. Several years ago, the roof on her house needed to be replaced, and Irene chose to replace it with standing seam metal roofing instead of asphalt shingles. While these roofs are more expensive, they last much longer, and are recyclable. Irene also reports that it sheds snow a lot better. The roof is a light gray color, which helps the home stay cooler in the summer and allows it to reflect heat.

Individual energy use mostly comes from transportation, heating, and electricity. Irene had already make huge changes in heating and transportation, so she decided to set her sights on solar panels. Her own roof was unsuitable for solar, so in 2011 she invested with some neighbors in a community solar array (CSA). CSA’s are a way you can invest in solar energy even if you do not want solar panels on your roof, or are unable to put them there.

One step at a time...

Irene remains convinced that anyone can make a change to their energy usage, even if it is as simple as carpooling. She herself has made changes slowly over a long period of time as they became practical. Irene took advantage of  rebates, but says that she would rather spend money on energy upgrades than do things like go on vacation. If you’d like to talk to Irene, jump on the ACTR, which she rides twice a day to and from work, just like she has for the last 18 years.

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