What got me going on making changes to my house was last year's oil prices. I had this terrible sense of insecurity when prices shot up, and I was dependent upon oil for heat. For me, homeland security is a big pile of wood in the back. I looked into the most likely culprits for heat loss, and had a professional energy audit done. Some of what I undertook to do after the audit was small. We learned that we had pretty useless fiberglass insulation in our roof and knee-walls. I hired my kids to pull it all out and stuff it in bags, and we had cellulose blown in. Most importantly, we found a place to have the used fiberglass recycled. They came and picked up the bags, for someone else to use, and I get a tax credit. The other fairly small thing I'm doing now is putting 2" foam sheets in my basement. But other stuff was huge. I had a masonry heater put in. (A masonry heater is a hyper-efficient wood-burning heat storage unit. It is by far the cleanest way to burn wood, because it burns so long - all day - and so hot. Even a small one is not only large, but also heavy. My basement had to be reinforced in order for the heater - and its enormous chimney - to be installed). I love it, but it's going to take a long time for that to pay for itself. And then, I decided to move to solar hot water. Here's the glitch: The first step is to convert from oil to electricity, which will eventually be provided by the solar panels. I got as far as buying the huge electric water heater, but ran out of cash before I could install the solar panels. Now I have a huge electric water heater, and oil prices are down. It's killing me.

The upshot? I'm still glad I did it. Oil prices are going to go back up, and it's not just money. There are plenty of other repercussions of being dependent upon oil. I also love this masonry heater. It's 90% efficient, and heats my home beautifully. I only have to build a fire twice a day, I'll burn 3 cords of wood over the course of the whole year, and it's my primary source of heat.

Diana, North Yarmouth, Maine

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Hey Dean! I wanted to let you know that the insulation in the room over our garage is working great! It was 87 degrees outside today, and the thermometer we had in the room read an arctic 71 degrees -- right where my wife likes it. Thanks so much!