BROOKSVILLE — Sarah Everdell’s life got a lot hotter last Thursday. From her chair in the Brooksville Community Center, the Sedgwick resident passed plastic-wrapped wooden frames under the 500-degree heat of a high-powered heat gun, which looks like a blow dryer on steroids.
Everdell filled a key role in a temporary production line that formed in Brooksville last week. She was one of over a hundred volunteers who took shifts building 65 window inserts a day.
The inserts are pushed up against windows, where they can save a lot of money on a user’s heating bill by preventing warm air from leaking out through the glass.
Everdell’s job was to use the heat gun to shrink the polyolefin plastic coating on the window inserts, thereby making the plastic as tight as possible on the pine frame.
Last year, Everdell said, it took three volunteers armed with blow dryers a few minutes to do the job which she can now do in about 30 seconds while sitting down.
“Every year there’s an improvement,” she said.
The ‘heat bridge,’ as the mechanism on which the heat gun is mounted is called, is one of several inventions that have helped increase the pace of window insert production in Brooksville over the past three years.
Among the other inventions was a handheld wooden “smoother,” which Blue Hill resident Bill MacDowell used to smooth out the packaging tape around the edge of the inserts.
Last year, volunteers also invented a double-sided tape applicator and a wooden jig that spooled out foamy packaging material for the inserts.
“It’s gotten a lot easier since when we first did it,” said Susie Grindle, a Blue Hill resident who has volunteered at builds for the past four years. “Everyone gets so good at their job they can even train new people.”
The combination of cool tools and a crackerjack crew has helped the build get more efficient every year.
“Just look, they finished their morning quota 45 minutes early,” said Blue Hill resident Ray Yardy, the production coordinator for the build, as the volunteers sat down for lunch shortly after 11 a.m. last Thursday.
“We could build more if we could sell more,” he added.
While the supply side of the operation has grown more efficient, the demand side has leveled out. Each year for the past three years, the Brooksville volunteers have made about 300 inserts.
Volunteers collect orders for inserts every spring. They visit a customer’s house, measure the windows and send the measurements to a Rockland-based nonprofit called WindowDressers, which coordinates the builds in Brooksville and across the state.
Normally, the inserts cost between $18 and $34, but part of the nonprofit’s mission is to make 22 percent of its annual insert production available for free for low-income households.
Once WindowDressers has the measurements, the nonprofit uses a computerized chopsaw to cut the wooden frames for inserts.
The inserts are then trucked to build locations across the state, where they are wrapped tight in two layers of polyolefin plastic by volunteers and delivered to each customer.
“We could do 350, maybe 400,” said Yardy a retired engineer. “Marketing is the hardest part.”
The project coordinator, Tom Adamo, said that he put out ads for the inserts in the Castine Patriot and spoke with local community and religious organizations about the operation.
Still, the orders are the same every year.
“It’s not a matter of saturation, but of penetration,” Yardy said. “We are struggling to reach people who live in old farmhouses that don’t hear about it and could use it.”
“It’s a really fantastic opportunity and a lot of people just don’t know about it yet,” said Laura Seaton, WindowDressers’ director of community builds.
Seaton said builds across Maine are facing the same marketing challenge as Brooksville.
She said WindowDressers has tried to respond by ramping up its social media presence and by increasing the number of community builds.
“We had 17 builds last year, and 27 this year,” she said. “A lot of those builds will have low numbers of inserts because it’s their first year, but next year they will go up.”
Seaton said that word of mouth through local connections is the most effective way to spread awareness about the inserts.
That plays into WindowDressers’ strengths, she said, because the nonprofit relies on local volunteers to spread the word and build the inserts.
“We send volunteer measurers to people’s homes,” she said, “so feeling comfortable with someone you know measuring your windows is a big part of it.
“And one of the best selling points is when people see inserts in their neighbor’s houses or in their church,” she continued.
One thing’s for sure, the inserts can make a dent in a heating bill.
“It’s tremendous how much of a difference they make,” said Tracey Hair, the director of HOME, the Orland-based homeless shelter and cooperative, who volunteered at the build.
Hair said that the Blue Hill church St. Francis by the Sea bought 43 inserts for HOME to use in the Dorr House Men’s shelter and the Sister Barbara Hance House this year.
“Some of the buildings are really old, and this is as good as replacing the windows,” said Hair, who pointed out that several other HOME people were also volunteering at the build.
“Everybody could use them,” Yardy said. “They save energy.”
Adamo said that inserts can be ordered by visiting windowdressers.org or by calling 691-2030 or 230-9902.