Jason Robie: Gradually Going Green

Regardless of your stance on global warming (Dear God I’m not going to touch that with a 10-foot pole), I think we can all agree that taking steps to mitigate our damage to the earth is a good idea. Having lived in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Colorado and New York, it is safe to say that there is a wide variety of opinions and levels of effort toward this end throughout our great country. So, whether you proudly drive a 4-ton, gas-guzzling SUV or you proudly drive your tree-hugging Tesla coupe, I’d like to share some steps we can all take to do our part. Kermit had it right, when he sang, “It’s not that easy bein’ green.”

One important item to keep in mind about making efforts at being green is that the majority of steps you can take benefit the planet but also benefit your wallet. If you solely consider efforts focused around making your house (or your transportation) more energy efficient — that directly translates into less money being taken out of your budget.

The first tip is one that comes at a good time for those of us in the colder areas of the country. This is the season where we can take steps to button-up the house in preparation for the coming winter (No, not the Game of Thrones one! Although I can’t wait!). The first step, if the leaks aren’t blowing your curtains on windy days already, is to get a home energy audit. This is the best way to identify (and target) the areas of the home that are the biggest sinners when it comes to heat (or cooling) loss.

The audit will inevitably point at the areas around your windows, the windows themselves and other areas where the insulation just isn’t able to protect. The less obvious areas are really where the audit pays for itself. We have cedar siding that the migrating birds simply love to poke holes in. When the home inspector was showing me around the house with his fancy camera that shows heat maps, we noticed a big issue. Over the years before we bought the house, these birds had created a veritable castle in our walls. How they had not poked through the sheetrock is beyond me. That 2-foot tall section of wall was entirely devoid of any insulation. Needless to say, that was the first area we attacked with new foam insulation.

That “spray foam” insulation is another great step in sealing up your home. Although the initial investment is a bit of a shock, the installers and experts alike all sing the praises of the eventual savings during all four seasons. There are areas where you can do this yourself such as attics and crawlspaces, but for the overall home it is always best to let the experts handle that. There are air returns to consider and other factors that you don’t want to gamble with when it comes to the quality of the air you and your family will be breathing in the coming months.

Another great way to conserve money and natural resources is by reclaiming or capturing water. Rainwater and household “gray” water can be reclaimed and used for a myriad of things including watering plants and lawns and even washing your car. I know the idea of using “waste” water sounds a little extreme and maybe even gross, but give it a chance, and by doing it correctly you can make a big difference.

“Although conservation is not necessarily tops on everyone’s list, small changes can make a big difference in your footprint on this earth and the costs associated with running a household,” notes Badger Realty agent, Jerry Hamanne. “Not only can it improve your daily living experience, but those small items tend to make a difference for buyers when you are selling your home in today’s market,” he continued.

The last step for those with bigger visions and more motivation is to go solar. This can be done, like most things, in small steps as you work towards a more complete system. Solar panels can be used to store power to supplement your energy costs and can be used to simply heat water for use throughout the home and even for heating. One of the first places I rented had a passive solar system in the back yard that just heated water. This covered a large percentage of the heat in the winter months as well as supplementing the hot tub year round. If that is not a great reason for going solar, I don’t know what is.

Going “green” doesn’t always have to be about saving the planet, but can be a great way to cut costs and supplement the work that your home is already doing to keep you warm, cool and even well lit when it is dark. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to take this path, I encourage you to explore the many ways you can get started and make a difference. You will not only be helping your budget, but your kids and grandkids will appreciate the fruits of your efforts.


Allison Jackson joins Northeast Bank as Bethel branch manager

Northeast Bank announced the appointment of Allison Jackson as Branch Manager of its Bethel, Maine, branch.

Jackson comes to Northeast Bank with more than 15 years of banking experience, including 14 years with the Bank of New Hampshire, where she served in a variety of roles, including banking office manager. She joins the bank after working for the Tri-County Community Action Program and Service Credit Union.

“We are pleased to have Allison take charge of our Bethel branch,” said Senior Vice President Jeff Wright, retail sales and operations manager. “She is a proven leader across several industries, and has the background we need to ensure our customers receive the highest level of service.”

Jackson received her bachelor of science in business management and master of science in project management from Granite State College. She currently resides in Berlin.

Allison ppNortheast Bank announced the appointment of Allison Jackson as Branch Manager of its Bethel, Maine, branch. (COURTESY PHOTO)


Lucinda Bragg joins Northeast Bank’s Mortgage Lending Team

Northeast Bank announced the appointment of Lucinda Bragg as a mortgage loan officer.

A resident of Shelburne, Bragg will be delivering mortgage advice throughout Central and Western Maine as well as Northern New Hampshire. Offering a variety of products and services, Bragg will work with local borrowers to design custom mortgage solutions tailored to fit their needs.

“We are thrilled to have Lucinda join our team as we help residents of Maine and New Hampshire achieve the dream of homeownership,” said Jim Dell’Anno, vice president, director of mortgage banking. “Her proven mortgage lending experience will ensure our customers continue to receive the highest level of service.”

Bragg joins Northeast Bank with nearly 15 years of experience in the mortgage field. She previously served in the mortgage department as both a loan officer and a loan administrator for Northway Bank in New Hampshire, and as a HomeOwnership Advisor for AHEAD. In addition to her work with Northeast Bank, Bragg also serves on the scholarship committee for the North Country Board of Realtors, and is president of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce in Berlin.

Bragg LucindaLucinda Bragg


Jason Robie: Building a bigger back yard

My fondest memories of living in Rangeley, Maine, are of hanging out with mom in the back yard, playing in the garden while she worked on the veggies. My least fond memory was getting stung by a bee in that very same garden! We were fortunate to have a back yard big enough to produce some food and provide a little playground for my brother and I. But what if your back yard is limited by neighbors, fences or even your own stuff. Today, I want to explore a few options you have for making the most of your outdoor space. Since you can’t push back the fence without creating a neighborhood land battle, let’s look at what you can do with the space you DO have.

One of the more important concepts to keep in mind when laying out or “accessorizing” your back yard is scale. Although a picnic table or patio table and chairs would be great, they likely don’t make the most sense if they take up a big percentage of your yard area. The same concepts apply from staging or outfitting a living room or bedroom. You want to be sure you are considering the size of the item in question (couch, bed, coffee table, picnic table, etc.) as it relates to the overall size of the space into which it is going.

In one of the first homes I ever rented, I got a screaming deal on a king sized bed. Once I got it home, I had to remove the door from the bedroom closet, since the bed literally consumed the entire room, and there was no room to open the closet. Scale was not the first thing on my mind at that time, but man I loved that bed!

Another great option, and one that will help you from going too big with your purchase, is taking the design flow diagonally. Rather than simply building the walkway or “flow” of the yard directly perpendicular to the back of the home, take it off at an angle. This helps separate the yard into sections while creating the illusion of more space. I would also consider multiple diagonals while you are at it. Simply zigzag the walkway or path to a back corner of the lot to continue the illusion of space and create a more interesting flow.

You may immediately think that trees are out of the question with a small backyard, but you’d be mistaken. Of course a towering oak tree, unless it is already there, is not the best option for the space, but you do have alternatives. A local landscaping friend of mine suggested the crape myrtle for small spaces. It offers summer flowers, fall colors and an overall attractive look. Adding a tree or two to a small space continues that concept of scale from above. Plus you won’t feel left out when your friends with large trees are raking this fall. You’ll just be done in half the time.

While we’re talking about going vertical, consider the same when adding flowers and plants to your small yard. The obvious choice is planters and flowerbeds on the ground, but there are loads of options when it comes to climbing greenery and creative planters that work in a vertical space. These are not only great options for fences around the perimeter of the property, but make perfect dividers for sectioning off the yard’s internal sections. If you run with the diagonal idea above, you could incorporate a fence of flowers to help solidify that path. It softens the border and is certainly more attractive than chain-link.

“Dividing up a small back yard is a great way to create the illusion of space and allows the homeowner to get creative with the sections,” notes Badger Realty agent, Janet Nickerson. She continued, “If the yard is sectioned into some lawn, some patio, a small garden and a section of flowers, it feels more like a series of rooms and affords the owners far more options”. Janet is right. Like a carnival fun house, each new section of the yard is a new adventure for the senses. The homeowner and guests alike will appreciate the variety.

One of the biggest challenges for folks living in more metropolitan areas, even just busy downtown neighborhoods, is a lack of good soil and certainly the lack of space. The best way to work with that is by incorporating containers for your flowers and vegetables. The beauty of containers is you can bring in the best soil available and not have to worry about what is in your actual yard. Containers are also a great way to bring flowers and veggies into a section of your back yard to help with nearly all of the concepts from above. They can help create divisions, paths and sections of your yard to help define it and bring added life and creativity.

Much like having a short driveway in the winter, having a small back yard is mostly a blessing. You have less maintenance and with the ideas presented here (along with some of your own!) you have the ability to get creative with the space and give it lots of personality. I encourage you to spend some time in your yard today and start to come up with some awesome ideas for how you can best utilize the space. Maybe that inner landscaper of yours will come out and surprise you!