environmental issues

Time For an Energy Assessment for Your Home!

As winter approaches, heating costs may be on your mind. Perhaps you have put off winterizing strategies in past years. Or maybe you've been curious about how to make your home more energy-efficient, but you weren't sure how to get started. The Mass Save program makes it easy for homeowners to start the ball rolling towards creating a more energy-efficient home. Better for the environment, and easier on the wallet!


Buyers often want to gain as clear a picture as they can about the degree of energy efficiency in a house they are considering, especially in many of the older homes for sale in the Northampton area. Sellers often want or need advice about what they can do to improve household energy efficiency, when preparing to put their homes on the market. We realtors often suggest contacting Mass Saves for an energy audit as a starting off point. 

Yesterday's article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, below, describes the process in detail!

Dirty or graying insulation above this basement wall is an indication of an air leak to the outside. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Mass Save’s energy assessment is cheapest route to weatherizing your home

For the Gazette 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By LINDA ENERSON 

Any time of the year is a great time to think about how to save energy, but the crisp night air of autumn is an especially good reminder to get the house ready for winter.

But before going to the hardware store to buy all the products needed to fill in all those drafty areas around windows and doors, you might want to consider bringing an energy-saving expert to your house to do that and more — for free.

One of the most informative and economical ways to make your home more energy-efficient is through the Mass Save program, a private/public partnership between the state and all the utility companies.

Homeowners can call and schedule a free energy assessment for their home. During the assessment, which takes several hours, a trained energy specialist walks through the house and creates a report, or “road map,” detailing what aspects of the home can benefit from upgrades, weatherization or additional insulation.

In addition to energy assessments, the program offers: 

  • rebates for upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances; 
  • substantial discounts on insulation; 
  • no-cost weatherization of drafty areas around doors, windows, sills, etc.; 
  • no-cost replacement of standard light bulbs with energy efficient LEDs; 
  • no-cost replacement of shower and faucet heads with more energy efficient models; 
  • no-cost replacement of heating system filters.

To get a better sense of the program, we tagged along on an assessment of a one-story contemporary home in Hatfield belonging to Eversource spokeswoman Patricia Ress. Brian Tierney was the energy assessor, and Eversource spokesman Bill Stack was also present to answer questions about the Mass Save program.

Stack encourages all residents, whether renters or homeowners, to take advantage of the program and schedule an assessment. Every month, Eversource customers pay a couple cents for every dollar they pay for electricity to fund the Mass Save program.

“Everybody is paying into it,” he said, “It’s like putting money into a savings account. If you don’t do an assessment, it’s like putting money into the account and never using it.” 

Down in the basement 

Tierney started the assessment in the basement, where he tested the heating/cooling system to determine how efficiently it was working. Ress’ home has a geothermal heating and cooling system, which exchanges heat through pipes that run into the ground to heat the home in cool months and cool it in the summer.

Tierney checked the system’s filter. Whether geothermal, oil or gas, if HVAC system filters are not replaced regularly, then the system will not function efficiently. He recommends a filter rated at Merv 8 or higher. Lower-end filters will protect the system from damage by large particles, but will not improve home air quality the way higher-end filters do.

He checked the hot water heater to ensure efficient combustion, and adequate venting, then checked the dehumidifier.

While dehumidifiers use a fair amount of electricity in the summer, keeping a basement below 60 percent humidity is important to prevent the growth of mold. Colder air, such as that in a basement doesn’t hold humidity well. That’s why homeowners will see sometimes see their basement walls sweating in summer.

“People sometimes tell me that they opened up the bulkhead to air out the basement, but that’s the worst thing you can do,” Tierney said, “It’s just a recipe for mold growth.” 

A better strategy is to seal any cracks or air holes around the sill and dehumidify the basement when necessary. Peeling back a piece of insulation near the sill, Tierney said that in some older homes, “you can actually see daylight along this line.” 

A gray or yellow discoloration of the insulation in attics or basements is a clear sign that air is somehow flowing in there. Air sealing in basements and attics is free of charge through the Mass Save program.

Air sealing is important not only to keep humid air from leaking in through the basement during summer but also to keep warm air inside the home during winter. Later in the assessment, Tierney will check the sill plate and inject an expandable foam into any holes to make this seal tight.

Spotting a chest freezer in the corner, Tierney mentioned that older chest freezers and refrigerators can be real energy hogs. Mass Save will pay residents $50 to haul these units away, and will then recycle 97 percent of the parts of these older appliances. Depending on the model, chest freezers are more efficient than those attached with a stand-up refrigerator as the cold air stays in the box when it is opened.

He also noted that it takes less energy to keep a full freezer at the set temperature. If there isn’t enough frozen food to fill the freezer, old milk jugs can be filled with water and set around the food packages to ensure efficient cooling.

Main floor 

Tierney asked Ress about her energy usage. Ress said her electric bill went up substantially when she moved into the house earlier this year.

Ress’ home was built in 2000, and so far, Tierney found little to indicate that it was inefficient. During his spot check of the basement sill line, the insulation and sealing seemed sufficient.

Ress said that the mix of generations living in her home may increase the demand for energy, as her elderly parents need to be in a comfortable temperature and her teenager uses a fair amount of hot water and electronics. 

“We have the TV on just about all the time,” she said, adding, “the geothermal system is great and keeps us comfortable, cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but the pumps are running all the time.” 

Then Tierney started replacing dozens of small light bulbs with LEDs in several chandeliers on the main floor. He noted that Ress may start seeing substantial savings right away, because the cost of running a lot of incandescent bulbs, even if they’re small, can really add up. 

Stack added that homeowners may see savings up to over $500 with these lighting upgrades alone, as the bulbs use so much less energy and cost at least $4-5 each in stores.

Mass Save uses LEDs rather than compact fluorescent bulbs because they do not contain mercury, and last much longer. 

“One thing we tell customers is that if they put in an LED bulb when they have a new baby in the house, they may not have to replace that LED until their child is off to college,” Stack said.

Tierney also pointed to a few different power strips on the main floor where different appliances and lights were plugged in and, in many cases, still using electricity, even though they were turned off. He replaced power strips in Ress’ home with “smart sticks,” which cut power to several appliances on the strip when they are not in use.

The Mass Save program provides programmable thermostats during energy assessments, which can improve efficiency. Stack said the program can also provide Wi-Fi thermostats, some of which allow homeowners to adjust temperatures from afar, lowering or increasing them automatically when they are within a specific radius. A second visit is required to install Wi-Fi thermostats.

Tierney advised against temperature shifts of more than 8 degrees between day and night. 

“Temperature swings greater than that will require more energy to heat the house back up than if you had left the thermostat alone,” he said.

He also checked Ress’ appliances to see if they were running efficiently. Mass Save offers a tiered rebate program based on income to encourage upgrades to more energy-efficient models. Rebates on refrigerators, for example, start at $150 but are higher if a resident is low- or moderate-income. Rebates for clothes washers start at $350.

In the attic 

Tierney climbed into the attic and found that Ress’ home was well insulated. With 14 inches of cellulose insulation in addition to a layer of hard insulation, her home was well protected from heat loss. But Mass Save offers large discounts on insulation for homes that need it. Homeowners may qualify for discounts of 75 percent of the cost of approved insulation improvements, up to $2,000, Ress said. Discounts are even higher if residents are low- or moderate-income. 

In addition, the program offers no-cost targeted sealing of air leaks. She added that qualifying residents may also be eligible for zero percent financing for eligible measures through the HEAT loan program http://www.masssave.com/en/residential/expanded-heat-loan.

Stack said Mass Save also works with contractors building and remodeling homes, offering discounts on energy-saving measures. He said homeowners who are in the process of construction can encourage their contractor to call the program to take advantage of these savings. 

In addition, the program is reaching out to real estate agents to do energy assessments before new owners move in. 

“When the house is empty, that’s the best time to look around and see what can be put in place to make sure it’s energy efficient,” he said.

Property Values and the Gas Pipeline

Many Pioneer Valley homeowners, realtors and citizens have been contemplating whether the installation of the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast will affect property values in the Northampton area. While the following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette is inconclusive, it does seem to suggest that there may both safety issues in having a home in close proximity to a compressor station, and, at the least, a temporary dip in property values while the pipeline is being installed. Of course, there are also the environmental concerns surrounding this project. A group of Franklin County towns have formed the Municipal Coalition Against the Pipeline to fight the project. To follow is the article in the Gazette.

Impact on property values a concern for residents along route of proposed natural gas pipeline

RECORDER FILE PHOTO The home at 382 Lower Road in Deerfield is within 500 feet of the path of the proposed natural gas pipeline.

The home at 382 Lower Road in Deerfield is within 500 feet of the path of the proposed natural gas pipeline.

By TOM RELIHAN
For the Gazette
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, October 14, 2015)

DEERFIELD — With a natural gas pipeline and accompanying compressor station proposed to be built in western Massachusetts, many residents along the expected route have found themselves worrying about how it could affect the value of their homes.

In August, Heather Reloj, who owns a home on Lower Road in Deerfield, asked the town to repay taxes that she had paid last year and reduce her taxes going forward due to how close the project is expected to pass by her house. And residents of Gulf Road in Northfield have expressed concern about how a potentially noisy — and some say dangerous — 41,000-horsepower compressor station expected to be built nearby could affect the value of their homes or insurance policies.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct project would cross through Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight Franklin County towns on its way from Pennsylvania shale fields to Dracut.

Though most of the area’s real estate and appraisal experts say it’s too early to speculate on the possibilities and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors — a trade group with a membership of 20,500 real estate professionals — said it does not have any data on the issue, how it has played out in places where such infrastructure has already been installed has been studied before.

Studies say


According to a 2013 study by the Forensic Appraisal Group LTD, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in issues with the potential of litigation related to pipelines and electric wires, natural gas pipelines have a definite, measurable effect on the value of homes on the properties that they cross. The study focused on gas transmission pipelines like the proposed Northeast Energy Direct project and how a potential home buyer’s perception of associated risks could detract from home values.

The study, conducted by senior appraiser Kurt Kieslisch, surveyed real estate agents and considered another study that surveyed home buyers. Both groups were asked their opinions on how information from negative media reports about pipelines or legal disclosure of a pipeline and the associated risks on a property might impact their decision to purchase it or increase the difficulty of selling it, in the Realtors’ case.

It found that the property became more difficult to sell with each additional level of information provided about the nearby pipeline.

“Damages resulting from perceived market negative influence are sometimes known as ‘stigma’ or ‘severance’ damages,” wrote Kieslisch.

The firm also carried out a number of “impact” studies comparing the sale price of similar homes that were encumbered by a pipeline easement and those that were not, in Ohio and Wisconsin. It found that the presence of a gas transmission pipeline decreased home values by about 12 to 14 percent on average in Ohio and about 16 percent on average in Wisconsin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate natural gas pipelines and is ultimately responsible for permitting them, appears to disagree, however.

In a previous environmental impact statement issued by FERC for Constitution Pipeline Co. and Iroquois Gas Transmission System’s Constitution Pipeline and Wright Interconnect project in Pennsylvania and New York, which was permitted in December 2014, the agency determined that property values were “not substantially affected” by a nearby pipeline.

A handful of studies cited by FERC in the environmental impact statement concluded that property values aren’t heavily affected by pipelines, though one of the studies showing that property values dropped following an incident along a pipeline and recovered over time.

The statement acknowledged that appraisals do not generally consider “subjective valuation” — the idea that some things are worth more or less to different people based on how much they personally desire or need it and their perception of associated risks, in the case of pipelines, which the Forensic Appraisal study said has a definite effect on purchase decisions.

“That is not to say that the presence of a pipeline, and the restrictions associated with a pipeline easement, could not influence a potential buyer’s decision to purchase a property. If a buyer is looking for a property for a specific use, which the presence of the pipeline renders infeasible, then the buyer may decide to purchase another property more suitable to their objectives,” the environmental impact statement noted.


Oregon project

One of the studies was conducted in 2008 by Dr. Eric Fruits, a economics professor at Portland State University. The study, which he was hired to perform for the Oregon LNG Project as part of the FERC’s environmental impact statement process there, reviewed the effects of the South Mist Pipeline Extension — a 24-inch diameter pipeline in northeastern Oregon — on local home prices. Similar to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline, the South Mist Pipeline Extension line is buried for its entire 62-mile length with the exception of above-ground valves and inspection stations and the land above it is a permanent, 40-foot-wide easement.

Through an analysis of local assessor’s data and property values both before and after the pipeline was constructed, Fruits found that both the announcement and completion of the project had little effect on property values. In Clackamas County, Oregon, if all of the houses along the pipeline route were located exactly one mile from the pipeline and were sold after operation commenced, he wrote, the total value of the sales would only decrease by 1.9 percent over what it was before the pipeline was installed.

This year, Fruits and another Portland State researcher, Julia Freybote, revisited the topic in a second study. That study investigates the relationship between a prospective home buyer’s perceived risk related to a nearby pipeline and sales prices, as well as the media’s role in influencing sales prices through coverage of unrelated fatal pipeline explosions elsewhere.

The study, which focused on the same pipeline and data set as Fruits’ earlier study, surveyed about 30,000 home sales transactions within a mile of the pipeline, he said. It concluded that home-sales prices dropped suddenly during months in which fatal pipeline explosions were covered by local or national media. Fruits said the study, which he and Freybote conducted independently as an extension of the 2008 study, showed that coverage of such incidents do have a small effect, but it goes away after a couple of months.

“If you look at the grand scheme of things, a lot of things need to line up for that to happen,” Fruits said. “You’ve got to be pretty close to the pipeline, and you’ve got to be trying to buy or sell the house when there’s an accident.”

Washington explosion

When there is a highly publicized incident along a particular line, however — such as the explosion that occurred along the Olympic gasoline pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, on June 10, 1999, and killed three people — property values can drop suddenly but, again, recover over time, according to a 2006 study by Western Washington University economics and finance professors Julia Hansen, Earl Benson and Daniel Hagen titled “Environmental Hazards and Property Values: Evidence from a Major Pipeline Event,” which was also cited in FERC’s Constitution statement.

The study analyzed sales transactions along two petroleum product pipelines, the Olympic and the nearby Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries crude oil, for a period of 5½ years before and five years after the Olympic explosion. The Trans Mountain pipeline had never experienced an incident during the period studied.

Hansen, an economist who focuses on housing, said she and her colleagues live in Bellingham and the incident spurred their interest in how pipeline accidents affect home values.

The study found that proximity to the accident-free line saw no effect while properties within 50 feet of the Olympic line saw a 4.6 percent decrease in their home values, a figure which dropped precipitously until no impact was experienced at distances farther than 1,000 feet from the pipeline.

“We found that prior to the accident, houses near a pipeline sold for no less than similar houses elsewhere, but after the accident, houses near the pipeline that ruptured sold at a discount. The closer to the pipeline a house was located, the larger the discount,” Hansen said. “These findings suggest that the accident did in fact have the effect of increasing the perceived risk of living near a pipeline. However, we also found that the discounts become smaller over time, indicating that some of the effect on home prices was temporary.”

Harder to get a mortgage or insurance?

FERC was not able to determine whether the proximity of a pipeline makes it more difficult for a homeowner or potential buyer to get a mortgage, as banks and mortgage lenders would not confirm that to be the case during FERC interviews, the statement said.

The environmental impact statement also failed to measure the impact on a homeowner’s insurance policy regarding a pipeline being installed on their property. The statement said the agency carried out an independent study that involved calling representatives from a variety of insurance companies both in the Constitution project’s immediate area and nationally, but the companies either would not provide specifics or simply never returned inquiries.

“We researched the topic of homeowners and title insurance policies and conducted our own interviews with regional experts, where possible. Some experts would not authorize us to use them as references and others were unwilling to provide their professional opinion,” the statement read. “The real potential for these impacts is unclear and would likely be highly variable.”

The companies in the local project area did, however, acknowledge that the potential exists for a resident’s policy to be affected by the project.

Local experts

While many local real estate agents and appraisers declined to comment for this story, citing the premature nature of the issue or the controversy surrounding the pipeline, or did not return phone messages, at least one insurance representative said he did not expect a gas pipeline to affect his client’s policies.

Tim Farrell, the owner of Gilmore & Farrell Insurance in Greenfield, said none of the insurance companies he represents currently take gas transmission lines into consideration on applications for homeowner’s insurance, and he does not expect a new pipeline would affect policies.

“One of the questions we ask is how the home is heated, but gas off the street and propane tanks haven’t been a problem. We don’t like to see buried oil tanks,” he said. “As far as I know, there aren’t transmission lines here, but if there are, they haven’t been an issue.”

On the web:

FERC EIS — s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1354764/ferc-eis-constitution.pdf

Fruits, 2008 — tinyurl.com/q56crne

Hansen, et al. 2006 — pstrust.org/docs/ResidentialPropertyValues.pdf

 

Comments

  1. Sue Louisignau on

    I am a real estate appraiser. There is stia and it will effect value. The VA has specific guidelines for lending near power lines, pipelines. Our area is unique....not just a typical development. People move to the Pioneer Valley or Hilltowns for much more then having a roof over their head. There is stigma and it will effect values for houses near the compressor stations and those with pipeline crossing their land. It is possible you may not be able to finance that property. You cannot compare our area with a subdivision somewhere. This will have effects on value. Susan Louisignau. SRA, RA, M.Ed 229 Maple St Northfield, MA 01360 413-498-0080

    Where to Put Your Food When you Move!

    Do you ever open your cabinets and wonder how the wide array of arcane canned goods found it's way into your pantry? We seem to collect way more food than we could ever hope to eat as time progresses. Every time my husband and I have moved house, and we have moved quite a few times (given that I am a realtor), we have a party where every guest is expected to take some food items with them when they leave. Even our most recent move from Northampton MA to nearby Florence MA included the requisite "take what you can carry" party. It's a great way to make sure that food does not go to waste. My husband sent me a link to this fantastic blog by MoveForHunger.com about what to do with your non-perishable foods when you move! What a great resource. It sounds as if we need to put a bug in the ear of our local moving companies to make sure they provide this invaluable service!

    Read on here for more information!

    MoveForHunger.org Fights Food Waste on Moving Day

     
    Move For Hunger has rescued over 4 million pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. (Image: Move For Hunger)

    Move For Hunger has rescued over 4 million pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. (Image: Move For Hunger)

    Traveling through India with a ripped bag and worn out shoes was the first time my perception of waste was challenged. I was thrilled to toss away my holey shoes until the handiwork of thrifty street entrepreneurs caught my attention. They presented another option. For a few rupees, I handed over my soon to be garbage and stood agape as new soles were cobbled and special stitches woven to make my shoes firm and my bag as reliable as ever.

    Dan's shoes were restored to as good as new and saved from winding up in the trash

    Dan’s shoes were restored to as good as new and saved from winding up in the trash (Image: Dan Ratner)

    With a few simple (yet adept) movements my potential trash became a renewed source of value. My perspective was shifted, and so began my upward spiral into the anti-waste movement – with a particularly passionate focus on minimizing food waste.

    My Experience With Food Waste Led Me to Move For Hunger

    As Director of Operations, I have seen first hand the impact that a shift in perspective paired with a simple solution can create. Move For Hunger is a hunger relief non-profit organization that partners with movers, realtors, and relocation professionals to collect unwanted non-perishable food during a move, and deliver it directly to a local food bank. We provide support to encourage our socially responsible partners to make food collection part of their normal business process.

    Here’s How It Works:

    Step 1 – Mover is hired for a residential move or a company relocation

    Step 2 – During the moving process, the Mover gives the client personalized Move For Hunger materials to educate client about the local need and how to become part of the solution

    Step 3 – Client gives the mover any unopened, non-perishable food that would otherwise be wasted

    Step 4 – Mover delivers the donated food to a local food bank

    Step 5 – Move For Hunger shares & reports the awesome work done by the company and the positive impact made within the community

    With this simple three step process, the hard work is taken out of donating food (Image: Move For Hunger)

    With this simple three step process, the hard work is taken out of donating food (Image: Move For Hunger)

    Move For Hunger transforms moving day into an opportunity to reduce food waste and feed the hungry. During the relocation process, customers that would otherwise toss food away are now encouraged to simply put it aside and have it donated to a local food bank.

    Since its start 5 years ago, Move For Hunger has rescued over 4,300,000 pounds of nonperishable food. This success is due to our partnership with over 600 Movers, thousands of Realtors, and major relocation professionals spanning all 50 states and Canada. It’s a noteworthy feat I’m always more than ready to brag about.

    Move For Hunger Enables People to Make a Difference

    Many people want to help, they just don’t know why or how (and with the how, the simpler the better). The Move For Hunger process is a simple addition to something that already exists. Educating the client on a problem then giving them the tools to make a difference makes the process simple and easy. We’ve seen this with a variety of large (and small) scale initiatives across the country. Once it becomes apparent that people struggling to have food on their table can be helped in a direct and simple way, more hunger fighting opportunities begin to spring forth.

    Here are a few events that epitomize the Move For Hunger perspective shift:

    Mergenthaler Mover’s : Montana Fill-A-Truck Campaign

    Mergenthaler’s began as an actively engaged awesome Move For Hunger mover. However, they didn’t stop there. They decided to take Montana by storm by hosting the largest food drive Fill-A-Truck in the state and have been going strong since 2013! A Fill-A-Truck is when a truck is parked outside of a grocery store with the goal of filling it with food to donate locally. They filled 4 trucks with donated food and were able to collect over 15,000 pounds of food for families during the holiday season!

    Real Estate Fall Food Fight

    With our home base in Asbury Park, NJ it only makes sense to rile up a bit of good spirited competition among our socially inclined partners. The Real Estate Fall Food Fight was a one month event that vied our Real Estate partners against one another to collect $500 and 500 lbs of food. Our Real Estate Program is focused on education and awareness as realtors educate their clients about the local need and then encourage them to donate during the move.  Another example that reminding the client how an easy shift in actions (to donate not discard) can spark massive change.

    The Move For Hunger team make it easy for your unwanted food to get to a local food bank

    The Move For Hunger team make it easy for your unwanted food to get to a local food bank (Image: Move For Hunger)

    Birthday Cans Instead of Birthday Candles

    Xavier, a passionate high school student, has donated his birthday for the past 5 years to raise food for his community. A major benefit of having an incredible fleet of socially responsible movers is that they are willing to donate their time to help support food drives. Move For Hunger can drop off collection boxes before the event, pick-up the donations after the event, take them to a food bank and report back the total amount that was collected. We do all the heavy lifting – and we’re thrilled when individuals and companies take advantage of this to become Hunger Fighting Heroes in their communities!

    Get Involved & Start Your Own Food Drive or Fundraising Event

    What makes each of these events so powerful is that they encourage a company or an individual to have a perspective shift. Viewing cans as nothing more than added weight to discard is instead transformed into an opportunity to provide valuable nutrition for a neighbor in need. The shift can lead to more food donations (which we love) or even permeate into other walks of life. A company may transform its culture by adding food drives and community engagement as part of their primary success metrics. An individual may be more apt to help knowing that you don’t have to solve the whole problem to make a tremendous difference.

    This Change of View Opens Our Eyes to the Value of the Resources Around Us

    Simple examples like being more mindful while food shopping, fixing your zipper rather than throwing away your jacket, even squeezing a few extra uses out of your toothpaste tube, are all benefits that come from a shifted perspective. As long as we can continue to find new ways to share that value with others, we’ll make our lives (not to mention the world) brighter and more remarkable. Please share your suggestions on how to add a simple step to a process to add value and benefit others.

    Do you know any movers, realtors, runners, or friends that want to get involved? Check us out and become a part of the Move For Hunger Team!

    Posting Guideline – Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors and implies no endorsement by WeHateToWaste. Stories published on WeHateToWaste.com are intended to prompt productive conversations about practical solutions for preventing waste.

     

    New Home for the Hitchcock Center for the Environment!

    Great news for Northampton and Amherst area residents!  The Hitchcock Center for the Environment will be breaking ground on the construction of their new, uber-energy efficient building on the campus of Hampshire College on May 1st.  The new building will have all the green construction bells and whistles you would expect: roof-mounted solar panels, rain collection barrels, composting toilets and a naturally ventilated structure.  The construction of the building will follow the strict mandates of the Living Building Challenge, defined as "a building certification program, advocacy tool and philosophy that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to rapidly diminish the gap between the current limits and the end-game positive solutions we seek.

    The Hitchcock Center strives to connect people with nature and the environment with it's educational programs.  It seems that housing the organization in a new home which also ties people back to nature makes good sense.  It will be exciting to see the building in it's completion this fall.  Read on for the full article published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on April 22nd, 2015

     

    The Red Barn at Hampshire College, near where the new Hitchcock Center will be built

     

    Construction of new Hitchcock Center for Environment building will begin with groundbreaking May 1

    The 9,000-square-foot building is expected to be New England’s first public environmental education facility to meet various standards under the Living Building Challenge, which mandates energy and water self-sufficiency and use of green materials, and will be large enough to accommodate the 11,500 children and adults participating in its environmental programs by 2020.

    The building will go up in a hay field between the Red Barn and the Hampshire College Farm Center. The Hitchcock Center and college agreed to a 95-year ground lease April 17 on the land. The building should be complete and ready for programs in the fall of 2016.

    Julie Johnson, executive director of the Hitchcock Center, said it is committed to the philosophy of the Living Building Challenge as part of its educational mission.

    “The process will transform how we think about design and construction as an opportunity to benefit both the environment and community life,” Johnson said.

    The building will include natural ventilation, roof-mounted solar panels, rainwater collection barrels and compostable toilets.

    Speakers at the ceremony, scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., are expected to include state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Rep. Ellen Story, both of Amherst; Dan Burgess, acting commissioner of the state Department of Energy Resources; and Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash.

    Founded in 1962, the Hitchcock Center fosters awareness and understanding of the environment through its programs, many aimed at children. At the new site, existing programs will be strengthened and new ones added using both the building and the surrounding landscapes, where the center will have access to miles of trails and a variety of ecological habitats.

    The new location is 2.5 miles south of the renovated carriage house at the Larch Hill Conservation Area on South Pleasant Street. This town-owned building is too small for the growing number of participants and there is little opportunity to expand on that site due to wetlands and other issues.

    What the future holds for the current building, which Hitchcock has used for more than 40 years, is unknown. Johnson said the center has a lease with the town through 2020 and is discussing with town officials how Hitchcock might use the building for the remaining five years of its lease.

    Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the conservation restriction on the 25-acre Larch Hill property explicitly states that as long as the building remains on site, it is to be used for environmental education and similar outreach purposes.

    He anticipates the building will remain useful, perhaps as a satellite teaching facility for Hitchcock.

    “We’ll continue to have those conversations with Hitchcock to see where that goes,” Ziomek said.

    The land, which is bordered on two sides by preserved farmland, will remain protected and the trails that extend through it will remain open, as they are today, to the public from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year, Ziomek said.

    The groundbreaking for the new Hitchcock Center site will also start the public phase of the capital campaign, which has already raised $4.5 million through support from the Kendeda Fund, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and local individuals, foundations and businesses.

    Parking for the groundbreaking will be at the Red Barn.

    Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

     

    Ban the Plastic Bag!

    On this cold and rainy/sleety spring day (I use the term "spring" loosely) I am contemplating an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this week about the potential ban of single use plastic bags in the city of Northampton, MA. Though our city is a progressive community, it is interesting how long it takes to effect a simple change that would have a positive effect on the environment if it were implemented.  Perhaps it would also help bolster the implementation of similar changes in other cities and states in our country (leading by example).  Many of us have already gotten into the habit of bringing our own bags into stores when we shop.  Businesses such as Serios in downtown Northampton (and River Valley Market) have stopped using plastic bags of their own volition - Serio's even has reusable bags on hand to borrow if need be.  The following article points out that entire countries (Italy and Bangladesh) and the state of California have already instituted such bans.   Below is a photo which illustrates what 18,000+ plastic bags looks like, put together by the students of Northampton schools.  At present, Northampton uses about 10 million plastic bags per year alone! Hopefully, Mayor David Narkewicz and the City Council will approve the ban and have it take effect imminently. 

    Northampton officials hear pros, cons on plastic bag ban

    • GENA MANGIARATTI A ball of more than 18,000 plastic bags tied and rolled together by students in Northampton schools.

      GENA MANGIARATTI A ball of more than 18,000 plastic bags tied and rolled together by students in Northampton schools.

    NORTHAMPTON — Though many residents are in favor of a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in Northampton, some business owners have hesitations about its impact on retailers.

    “Your ideas are very admirable, but I think you need to step back and look at the timing,” said Steve Elkins of Deerfield, who owns WEBS Yarn Store on Service Center Road.

    He explained that many businesses might still be absorbing costs of other recent measures, such as the city stormwater fee and the state’s mandatory paid sick leave.

    Elkins was among some 20 Valley residents who turned out to a public hearing Tuesday night on proposed changes to the city code that would ban the use of most plastic bags starting Jan. 1, 2016. The hearing was hosted by the City Council and the Committee on Economic & Community Development, Housing and Land Use in an effort to gather public opinion on the idea.

    Elkins noted that his store would not be affected by a plastic bag ban, but he said he is concerned for those who would be. He suggested that the city hold off for another year before issuing the ban.

    “You can’t keep lumping costs onto businesses and expect them to be here,” he said after the meeting.

    The changes to the city code would ban supermarkets and other retail stores from using plastic bags that are 1.5 thousandth of an inch or thinner, making them suitable only for a single use. The proposed changes also state that these establishments should use only bags that are biodegradable, thick enough to be reused, or that can be composted.

    Thin plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat and bulk foods, as well as plastic coverings for many foods, are exempt from the ban.

    If the ban is approved, Northampton would follow in the footsteps of Newburyport, Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, the state of California, and countries including Italy and Bangladesh that have already implemented bans on plastic bags.

    Last summer, a proposal to ban plastic bags throughout Massachusetts stalled in the Legislature. But locally, businesses including Serio’s Market and River Valley Market have already stopped issuing plastic bags.

    Councilor Jesse Adams, who is recommending the ban in Northampton, said he believes it would get businesses ahead of the curve should the statewide ban be implemented in the future.

    Acme Surplus owner Mark Rosenzweig of Williamsburg said he is concerned that the ban could send shoppers to other communities to do their shopping.

    “It’s a difficult retail environment,” he told the committee.

    But several individuals expressed their support for the ban Tuesday.

    Jessica Gifford of Grove Street said she does not believe people will leave the city for conveniences such as not being charged for forgetting their reusable bags.

    “I’m really happy that this is hopefully happening,” Gifford said. “I believe if entire countries can do this, then we can do this.” 

    According to a display outside of City Council Chambers, the city still uses about 10 million plastic bags a year — and the point was well illustrated with a giant ball of 18,079 bags collected, rolled and tied together by students in Northampton schools.

    City Councilor Paul Spector, who is recommending the ban along with Adams, said the ball was so heavy that Council President Bill Dwight was unable to lift it.

    Jessica Tanner, of West Street, expressed concern regarding the allowed thickness of the plastic bags. In other communities with plastic bag bans, she said bag manufacturers have found a way around it by producing bags that are thicker, but still only intended for one use.

    “I urge the Northampton City Council to adopt a ban without loopholes,” she said.

    The proposed ordinance allows businesses that can show economic hardship to defer compliance with the ban for up to three six-month-periods. Tanner suggested that this be reduced to one six-month-period.

    Tanner also read a statement on behalf of Hollis Wheeler, of Denise Court, urging the city to allow no plastic bags thinner than five thousandths of an inch.

    Tina Ingmann, of Park Hill Road in Florence, also spoke in favor of the ban.

    “At this juncture of humanity, you have to move beyond what’s convenient,” she said.

    The proposed ban will need approval from City Council and Mayor David Narkewicz before taking effect.

    Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.