CONWAY — Normally, when you walk into a store at Settlers Green, you are greeted with racks of products. But this week, at the empty storefront next to Lindt Chocolatier on Monday, the space buzzed with volunteers, working in an assembly-line fashion to construct around 140 window inserts over the course of four days. 

In a collaboration between the Tin Mountain Conservation Center and Window Dressers, a non-profit based out of Rockland, Maine, several dozen local volunteers came together to build custom window inserts to reduce homes' heat loss and provide them at a reduced cost.

According to Tin Mountain Conservation Center Program Director Nora Dufilho, about 25 volunteers from across the valley worked on the project.

This "barn-raising-style community workshop," as Dufilho put it, is constructing window inserts for two public libraries and 10 households — five that qualify for low-income grants to cover the cost of the inserts and five senior households.

One key element of Window Dressers builds is that 30-35 percent of the inserts go to low-income households for free, but Dufilho said in this case, a full 40 percent of the inserts will go to community members for free.

Tin Mountain first teamed up with Window Dressers last year, with no build but ordering some window inserts to provide energy savings for some local homeowners.

Window Dressers has been measuring and building custom-fitted pine and double-layered plastic interior insulating window inserts through volunteer help since 2012, but this is the first time there has been a New Hampshire build.

According to the Window Dressers website, these inserts can save a homeowner up to 25 percent on fuel costs while creating a warmer, less drafty home. Since its founding, Window Dressers has helped Maine residents save an estimated 1.3 million gallons of heating oil, and it continues to expand throughout New England. Overall, the goal is to both save people money and reduce CO2 emissions.

"This (build) fits really well in Tin Mountain's mission of energy conservation," Dufilho said while wrapping plastic around window insert frames alongside the other volunteers. "With this being the first build, we want to set ourselves up for success, so we cut ourselves off by setting a 150 (frame) max, and we're building 140 inserts. It's challenging but really doable."

Last Saturday, a team of volunteers built the pine frames for the inserts, with specific measurements for each window and labelled accordingly, and they've spent the rest of the build assembling the full inserts. This involves lining each frame with double-sided tape, wrapping the frame in two layers of plastic, using a heat bridge treatment to seal and smooth over the plastic, a final wrap around the edges with packing tape, and lining the edges with the foam gasket so they can be placed in the windows tightly without damage.

While the process of coordinating this first build has been busy, Dufilho said that people and community organizations have stepped up to support enthusiastically. 

"I've kept my head down because it's the first time coordinating (this event), but it wasn't until we were actively building that it occurred to me this is a really fabulous volunteer effort with volunteer organizations from all over valley," she said. "Many (Windows Dressers builds around New England) have to scrape for volunteers, but we're really lucky to have more volunteers than we even need."

Local businesses also pitched in to the effort. Along with Settlers Green donating the space, Big Dave's Bagels and Deli and Hannaford supplied food for volunteers. 

Laura Lemieux, director of marketing and events for Settlers Green, said: "Partnering with the community is something we love to do, and we were happy to offer Tin Mountain and Window Dressers the space to make this event happen. It was quite the impressive operation, and hopefully it will help out countless people within the Mount Washington Valley."

While volunteers signed up as individuals, many came from groups around the valley, such as Rotary and the White Mountain Board of Realtors.

The window inserts are supposed to last anywhere from seven to 10 years, but Dufilho noted that in the case of damage or just general wear-and-tear, the inserts can be brought to any Windows Dressers build for repair at a reduced cost.

To learn more about Window Dressers, go to their website at windowdressers.org, and check out Tin Mountain's social media pages for more photos of the volunteer efforts.

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