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.
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.