FAQs about Energy in Topsham


 What improvements in my yard can I make to reduce cooling in the summer and increase heating in the winter?

You can plant hardwood trees around your house, particularly to the south, close enough to shade your windows in midday in the summer, and let the light in during the winter. You can plant a row of dense evergreens in the direction of the prevailing winds, and twice as far from your house as the height of your house.

 Can I save money by switching to solar power?

Yes. Purchasing your power from a community solar project will save you 10% to 15% off the standard offer electricity rate. There’s no upfront investment needed.

Investing in solar panels either on your property or at a solar farm will save you significant money over the long term. Payback on your initial investment is approximately 10 years. After which the electricity you generate is free. Solar panels are warranted for 25 or more years and typically last 40+ years.

 Can I save money by updating appliances?

Yes. Most new major appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and some new clothes driers will save you money. Your clothes dryer and refrigerator use more power than all other major appliances combined. A new ventless heat pump clothes dryer is 60% more efficient than the most efficient vented dryers. Heat pump water heaters can cut your water heating costs in half. Check out Efficiency Maine’s rebate programs for appliances, lighting and water heaters.

How you use your existing appliances can also save energy and money. You can use your dryer less by hanging clothes to dry either outdoors or in a warm part of your house. On sunny days clothes can dry in a couple of hours. Wind helps dewrinkle and soften. Clothes will dry even in cold temperatures.

Many dishwashers offer an energy saver mode or no heat dry setting. Most of the year the indoor humidity is low enough that air drying is more than sufficient. 

 Does an electric vehicle really reduce carbon emissions?

Yes, especially in Maine. First, the electric vehicle is more efficient at converting input energy into motion. Second, more than 50% of the electricity on the New England grid is generated from non-fossil fuel sources. The current target is for that to increase to 80% by 2030. Combining the 250% greater efficiency with the 50% non-carbon source and an electric vehicle produces 20% of the carbon that a gasoline vehicle produces. That doesn’t take into account the carbon produced to pump the oil from the ground, transport it to refineries, refine the crude oil into gasoline and then truck it to your local gasoline station.

Of course if you charge the electric vehicle with solar or wind power, it produces zero carbon emissions. 

This recent study done by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and reported in the New York Times included the total carbon emissions of production of the vehicle, including the batteries. 

 How can I add passive solar heat to my house?

If you are designing your house or an addition to your house, put fewer windows on the north side, and add double or triple pane windows with a low emissivity coating (low-E) particularly on the lowest level of the south side of your house. The low-E coating decreases the heat gain or loss through the window.

 Is there an inexpensive way to store some of the daytime solar heat for cold nights or a subsequent cloudy day?

Watch the angle of the sun moving across your floor and walls during the day from fall through early spring. Then add a dark slate or stone surface in the path of the sun or storage containers of water that will be heated directly during a sunny day.  The stones or slate will give off heat when they are warmer than the surrounding air. Another idea is a trombe wall, built of dense dark stone or cement, that has an air pocket running the whole back side of it and uses hot air warmed from the wall to heat the upper floor of the house. Hot air rises without any pump to power the heating.

 My house is weatherized, how do I save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Switching from oil, natural gas, and propane for heating to a heat pump will reduce your cost for heating as well as greenhouse gas emissions. You can compare costs using this online calculator. About 50% of the electricity on the New England grid is generated by non-fossil fuel sources including nuclear. By switching to an efficient heat pump powered by electricity you can both save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. See following question on solar as well.

 What improvements can I make to my home to save the most energy?

That depends on a number of factors such as the age and construction style of your home, the trees around your home, the type of heating system, etc…. The place to start is to reduce air leaking around doors and windows. You can often feel the drafts during cold or hot weather. Increasing insulation is also important if what you have doesn’t meet the recommended amount in our climate.

The only way to truly know what will save the most energy and be cost effective is to get an energy assessment. Efficiency Maine has a list of registered vendors and weatherization myths.

 Will an electric car save me money?

Yes. The price differential between gas and electric cars has narrowed in recent years. Here is an electric vehicle cost comparison calculator. Many new electric car models still receive a federal tax credit of $7,500, which can be carried into future years, and a $2,000 rebate from Efficiency Maine. Then there’s the higher fuel efficiency of electric cars. Over 75% of the energy you use to charge the battery of an electric vehicle goes into motion. Of the energy in the gasoline used to fuel an internal combustion engine, less than 30% goes into motion for the most efficient vehicles available today. It’s less for the average passenger vehicle.

Consider this comparison of the cost of driving 10,000 miles using current Maine energy prices. For the gasoline car we’ll assume it gets 30 miles per gallon. Over 10,000 miles it will use 333.33 gallons of fuel. At $2.50 per gallon that would cost $833.33. For the electric car let’s use the Nissan Leaf Plus which can drive 226 miles using 62 kWh of electricity. Over 10,000 miles that would be 2743.36 kWh. At $0.15 per kWh the cost would be $411.50. Gas prices would have to be $1.23 per gallon or the fuel efficiency would need to be 61 miles/gallon for the gasoline vehicle to match that price. The EV cuts your fuel prices by more than 50% or more.

In addition to fuel costs the electric car will need less maintenance over it’s life. There’s no engine oil to change or tune ups to be done. There’s no muffler, catalytic converter, or emission control devices to wear out.

 Will window treatments improve the energy efficiency of my home?

The least insulated part of your home are the windows. While double and triple pane windows are good, they only amount to an R value of about 4. You can more than double that by adding insulating window treatments which you should close at nights and on cold cloudy days. Cellular blinds, especially the kind with side tracks like the Insulating Slumbershades from Comfortex can more than double the insulation value of your windows. Insulating quilted curtains are another good option especially for larger windows.