Modernizing The Old Homestead


“We are warm in a way we’ve never been warm over the past 30 years”. Surprisingly, Geoff Fitzgerald wasn’t talking about our unusually warm February, but the aftermath of energy efficiency improvements in his home.  Geoff and his wife Ellen Starr can officially declare their home thermally independent from fossil fuels (for their heat and hot water).  Here’s how they did it. Originally a small farmhouse constructed in the 1840s, the old “homestead” depended on an oil burning hot air furnace for heat. In 1999 Geoff and Ellen constructed an addition over their garage, complete with an oil boiler for heat and hot water.  Last year, when the boiler in the garage was on its last legs, the family ripped out both the hot air furnace and the boiler and installed a Pellergy pellet boiler to replace them. “We are in love with the thing. The only maintenance is once a year when we empty the ash and clean the burn pot.” Wood pellets are delivered straight to the front door and stored in a five ton bin, then transported to the boiler via vacuum tubes. While the boiler consumes 4-5 tons of pellets per year, it generates less than a 5-gallon bucket of ash. Because of their pellet boiler, the Fitzgeralds were able to say goodbye to the 500-600 gallons of oil they consumed per year.

In addition to a wood pellet boiler, the family installed a solar hot water heater in 2005. Geoff and Ellen also put up solar photovoltaic panels over the garage. Now they save approximately $500-750 a year on their power bill.

So why go fossil fuel free? Geoff gives three reasons:

  1. We didn’t want to be cold
  2. We didn’t want to burn oil, and
  3. We wanted to age in place.

Ultimately, Geoff says, “if the environmental, social and geopolitical costs of oil and gasoline were accounted for in their price, no one would be able to afford burning oil.”

Other energy efficient features include:

  • Replaced old sash windows with Pella and Marvin double glazed windows
  • Insulated and air sealed the attic and spray foamed the basement.

Story by Becca Harris, Americorps VISTA volunteer for the City of Montpelier.