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Could Vt. sheep farmers help homeowners save on heating bills? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Could Vt. sheep farmers help homeowners save on heating bills?

Updated:
BURLINGTON, Vt. -

This is the time of year when folks tend to notice something they can't see. We are talking about insulation in your home and Vermont sheep farmers may soon have a role to play when it comes to helping homeowners save on their heating bills.

A growing number of farmers in Vermont are raising sheep for milk and meat. 

"We can't raise the fine wools here, the Merino sheep just does not perform well in our climate, but the sheep that we do raise here, it's a different kind of wool, it's a coarser wool that you don't necessarily want to wear next to your skin," said Kimberly Hagen, UVM Extension's Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

But the wool could be perfect for something else.

"It has a lot of other great properties one of them being insulation. So, the idea became using it for insulation or wall panels or upholstery makes a lot of sense," said Hagen.

Hagen got the idea while traveling in France several years ago. Using wool for insulation and furniture is common practice there.

UVM Extension's Center for Sustainable Agriculture launched a new research project into the feasibility of using wool from Vermont sheep as a natural, nontoxic insulation material.

The project is funded through a grant from the USDA and support from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets.

"Anytime we can help a part of the farming economy to add value to a product and there is a spread to be had between the raw product and a finished product, we see an opportunity we would at least like to know more about it," said Alex DePillis, Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets. 

He says farmers currently get about 50 cents a pound for the raw wool from meat and milk sheep. But when processed for insulation by washing it in boric acid that price could jump to $4 a pound.

"Remember sheep have to be shorn, wool has to be taken off, so there is a real opportunity. There already is a supply of wool because you have so many sheep for other reasons," said DePillis. 

Wool has been used recently to insulate a few homes in Vermont. 

"I was contacted by a woman several years ago who was renovating her farm house and she wanted to try using wool because she didn't want to use fiberglass," said Hagen. 

The product used came from a company in Oregon, which made it pricey to ship. It was blown into the walls with conventional machines. The homeowner said not only did it work for insulation but soundproofing, as well.

But could this work on a large scale?

"What do we have here for supply in Northeast in Vermont, New York State and then to process that, what would we need to do to process it how much would it cost and could we come up with a price point that could work?" said Hagen. 

The answers to these questions will eventually be published in a feasibility report, which will be available to the general public.

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