The couch in my living room is against an outside wall, right under a window. I have spent three decades trying to eliminate the draft against the back of my neck when I sit there.
WindowDressers might have an answer. Better than that: They go about it in an interesting, if inefficient, manner.
The volunteer-based program, which started in Maine, expanded to Vermont and easing into New Hampshire, creates pine frames wrapped on each side with sealed, clear polyolefin film that can be inserted into leaky windows. Consider it a portable storm window, one of many ways that people can make themselves more comfortable without having to spend more on heating or air conditioning. The group sells them and donates many as well.
That’s all well and good but the world is full of ways to reduce window drafts. What I like about WindowDressers is how they make them, and apparently I’m not alone.
“People like the process as much as the product,” said Allison Pouliot, WindowDressers program manager for Vermont and western New Hampshire.
Customers sign up, paying between $35 and $84 depending on the size and type of insert; volunteers come out and measure the windows; components of the frame are cut at the main office in Maine and shipped to the local office; and then – this is the good part – there’s a “community build” at which people come and assemble the components into finished frames, often using specialized jigs created by WindowDressers.
“It’s almost like putting together Ikea furniture,” said Lori Cox of Andover, who is overseeing the community build in New London.
That event will take place Nov. 10 to Nov. 15 at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. Contact Cox at email@example.com to find out more, or check windowdressers.org.
I love the idea of getting people together to make something that will help others and go a small way – OK, a teeny-tiny way – toward reducing global energy demand.
Efficiency-minded geeks will not be impressed. Gathering volunteers to do something is no way to “scale” an operation, to use business terminology. Better would be to build the inserts entirely in one location and ship them out.
But the modern world is making me think that we’ve got to stop thinking that efficiency is always a good thing. More often than not it results in some sort of dehumanizing change that takes the fun out of life, increases the gap between haves and have-nots, and generates a world with “more” but not “better.”
That’s because efficiency is based only on things we can quantify, which is usually physical output per time. Pleasure, satisfaction, long-term stability – those are hard to measure and put on a sliding scale, so efficiency pretends they don’t matter.
Creating window inserts through a community build is deemed inefficient because the total number produced is small, but only if you don’t factor in the benefits of getting people together and giving them a shared goal. And our fractured society, the land of bowling alone, needs all the shared goals we can get.
That’s why everybody is so fascinated by Amish barn-raising, where family, friends and neighbors gather together to build a barn. It’s not efficient – very low throughput numbers – but it shows that they enjoy deep connections with other people, which many of us are missing in life.
The process of WindowDressers feels like a small Amish barn-raising. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was born in a church. The Universalist Church of Rockland, Maine, designed the inserts to fix leaky windows in its sanctuary then some parishioners wanted their own. Eventually, a parishioner on Ilesboro Island, off Rockland, came up with the idea of doing it through community builds.
I don’t think that location is a coincidence, either: By necessity, folks on a small island are used to banding together.
The extra benefit of WindowDressers is that it overlaps our pressing need to transition to a clean energy economy, which starts with reducing energy needs. There’s a group in Hillsborough County called HAREI that takes a similar approach to solar power: It has volunteers get together to install photovoltaic panels at people’s homes.
Admittedly, the climate emergency also requires efficient solutions. It will take factories churning out wind turbines, companies building long-distance power lines, governments overseeing mining of minerals, and many more giant-scale operations to change the trajectory of our future.
But we should embrace “inefficient” approaches for the other benefits they bring. Not just helping warm the back of my neck on the couch, but helping warm the community around me. I’ll take that kind of inefficiency any day.