How To Keep Warm This Winter

Another Greene Westford column reprinted.

A home energy audit is a great place to start going green.   It can show you where to focus your attention to get the biggest bang for your buck.  It may take an initial investment, but will usually pay off in a short amount of time, then saving you money on your energy bills. 
As a customer of National Grid, you are eligible for a free Home Energy Assessment every year through a program called Mass Save.  Mass Save is sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities.  They work with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to “provide a wide range of services, incentives, trainings and information promoting energy efficiency that help residents and businesses manage energy use and related costs.”
Now you are probably wondering who pays for this program.  Guess who: You and every other customer of the utility companies contributes to the program.*  Ever wonder what an “Energy Efficiency Charge” on your electric bill is for?  There is a similar charge on your gas bill too.  It’s included in the Minimum Charge.
Do I have your attention now?  Take advantage of it!  You are paying for it anyway. 
The first step is to make an appointment for a Home Energy Assessment by calling 866-527-SAVE (7283).   This program is eligible to homeowners of standalone homes, residents of multi-family dwellings and landlords.  At this assessment, the auditor will test your gas appliances for safety, assess your home’s energy use and provide recommendations.  In the process, the auditor may install certain items that will start saving you money immediately such as CFLs, programmable thermostats and water savings devices as needed.
Before your audit, do some homework.  Based on the age of your home and heating source, investigate what might be worth doing before the auditor comes.  Also investigate what the program is offering at the time.  You will then be able to absorb and understand what they are telling you and ask questions.  The program changes from time to time, so be sure to ask.  Then ask some more.  Make sure you understand your options and what the next step should be.  Are you eligible for incentives or a loan? If you still don’t understand, call Mass Save and ask them. 
Our home was built a little over 10 years ago, so we thought we were in pretty good shape.  Our audit revealed several light bulbs that had not been changed to CFLs yet.  Those were changed to CFLs free of charge.  The insulation in our attic had settled to half the original thickness.  It also seems that the building codes have changed calling for more insulation in attics.  More insulation was needed to bring the attic insulation R-value to R-38. Our home also needed air sealing in the attic and a dome covering the access to the attic.
All of this work would normally cost about $3600.  The air sealing was free.  The dome on the attic access was free.  We also qualified for an incentive.  Mass Save paid for 75% of the cost of insulation, up to a maximum of $2000.  All of this brought our portion to about $600.  It is estimated that these improvements will save about $300 per year in heating and cooling costs.
This is only my experience which was very specific to what was found at my home and the program as it stood then.  This process took about 6 months from beginning to end.  I had to stay on top of things and keep asking questions when things didn’t make sense.  I was able to choose my own contractor from their list of approved vendors.  If you have a contractor in mind, call Mass Save to find out the correct process.  The program changed in July and this process is now different.
According to my auditor, it is a good idea to have an audit done every year or two.  The program changes, so does your house.  You are entitled to take advantage of the incentives and rebates once per year.  This year you might insulate your attic.  Maybe next year the program changes to include duct sealing and you can then take advantage of that.
*Note: I did not investigate completely how Mass Save is funded.  However, I was able to confirm that we, as utility customers, contribute to the fund.

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One Response to How To Keep Warm This Winter

  1. Small Footprints February 27, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    There are so many terrific programs which people aren’t aware of. Hopefully your post will encourage folks to check with their city officials and learn what they can take advantage of. It means better energy efficiency which translates to money saved and … a happier earth!

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