Digging Deep: A Deep Energy Retrofit on First Avenue


A hundred years after Montpelier was first settled, John and Liz Snell’s current house was built. One family lived in the house from shortly after its construction until 1978, when the Snell family bought it for the low price of $20,000. Wallpaper was taped onto poorly insulated walls and the roof leaked badly. In their first year, the Snell’s house consumed 3,000 gallons of oil and yet the house still felt drafty and cold. Flash forward 38 years and the house now consumes 10 times less oil at 300 gallons a year. You may be wondering how this jump in energy efficiency is possible. John Snell is no amateur to insulation. “Fiberglass is useless” --he advocates using spray applied cellulose for your insulation needs. It also helps that in his dining room the wall insulation is 9 inches thick. New windows from a California based company called Serious have an R-10 rating. The Snells worked with Clar Construction on the deep energy retrofit of their home.

Before you go out and apply 9 inches of insulation to your walls – heed these words from John, “the box sill in the basement is the number one place to start weatherization”. After the basement, it is important to also insulate and air seal your attic.

The Snell's home is broken up into 5 zones. When a section is closed off, heat can be concentrated where it is needed most.

Four years ago, the family invested in a solar hot water heater, which provides hot water from May until the middle of October (hint: both the heater and boiler tank pipes are insulated).


Last December, after the fall of a lovely tree, they were able to invest in 10 photovoltaic solar panels from Catamount Solar. The panels have already provided 67.3 kWh of power in the last month.

John Snell projects they will have an energy surplus in summer, which they intend to donate to the local food bank.

Other cool energy efficient features:

  • Heat Recovery Ventilator from Constructo.
  • Plastic under outdoor shingles to create drainage space and prevent rot.
  • Nest Thermostat – Provides data on energy use.
  • Alternative air supply for the boiler.

Profile by Rebecca Harris, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the City of Montpelier Planning Department.

Kate Stephenson