Alstead Shedd-Porter Library – Insulating the Dome

The Shedd-Porter Library is a unique piece of architecture for a small New England town with its copper dome and brought with it heating challenges. A project started to reduce heating causes because the Obama stimulus package funded an audit. This allowed the library to hire Margaret Dillon of Jaffrey (of “SEEDS”).  Her contribution, seconded by two insulation experts, was to invent a way for us to put a continuous thermal barrier across the top of the building (i.e. under the domed roof).  It was kind of a crazy scheme, requiring quite a bit of invention, but it’s now complete.

We are a town with separate “deliberative session” and “voting” meetings – I made a proposal asking for $30K to do the work, and it was opposed by 2 people at the former meeting and at the latter meeting it got more positive votes than any other warrant article.  (As it happened, the Library Trustees had to add an additional $7000.) Through taxes, locals contributed about $60 per family for that project! This truly shows the love of this building and the hope of making it a local gathering spot rather than simply a “spot” in Alstead.

The insulation work made the Library much more comfortable, and cut heating costs about in half, measured by gallons purchased per year. Decreasing the gallons of oil purchased also results in less CO2 in the air.

The comfort fostered much more use of the library.   Art shows came to the library as residents came back within its comforting walls. Residents have frank-but-polite political discussion for anyone interested on third Saturday mornings (a local baker brings amazing goodies) and a purposeless “last Saturday” social morning every month.  All this demonstrates how important comfort is, making it as important in my mind as saving money and cutting CO2. This library is no longer just a beautiful structure but a place where people come to gather, read, meet, and enjoy community.

Energy efficiency does not come without consequences.  A “tight” building is going to respond differently to moisture than an old drafty house.  The Library has a problem in one place with peeling paint and disintegrating century-old plaster.  It was partly caused by excessively wet ground underneath, but also partly by a failure to ventilate adequately in a certain area.  So energy efficiency requires some expertise – and even when going to experts – when faced with a unique building – challenges can follow. But – no one would ever exchange the library as it is now with before. This challenge can be faced – and this treasure of a library will bring people well beyond Alstead to its exhibits and community for years to come.

John Mann Cheshire District 2 Representative shares his memories of the energy efficiency conversion of the Alstead library. (Some editing for clarity made by Mary Ewell. Any questions please contact Mary Ewell mehinnh@gmail.com)