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Audit program aims to cut energy costs

  • Home owner Ben Weiner accompanies John Perrier of New England Green Homes as he looks for ways to improve energy usage in the older Deerfield home. Weiner's furnace and on demand hot water heater are efficient so Perrier concentrated on finding air leaks and where to add insulation. February 9, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Home owner Ben Weiner accompanies John Perrier of New England Green Homes as he looks for ways to improve energy usage in the older Deerfield home. Weiner's furnace and on demand hot water heater are efficient so Perrier concentrated on finding air leaks and where to add insulation. February 9, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • John Perrier of New England Green Homes uses a heat sensitive camera attached to his phone to see cold air coming in around the older windows. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Home owner Ben Weiner accompanies John Perrier of New England Green Homes as he looks for ways to improve energy usage in the older Deerfield home. Weiner's furnace and on demand hot water heater are efficient so Perrier concentrated on finding air leaks and where to add insulation. February 9, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

DEERFIELD — As though he’s taking a photo of the lace curtains, John Perrier aims his phone at the windows in Ben Weiner’s farmhouse.

But this is a heat-sensitive camera that shows how cold air is entering around the windows.

The blue and green image helps guide the New England Green Homes auditor through his review of how this 1858 house is losing heat. The tool is similar to the thermal imaging taken from Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s “ener-G-save” infrared cameras that have convinced homeowners of free energy audits being worth the time and effort.

“It’s not all that much money coming, and it’s doing a lot of good,” Weiner tells Perrier as he details the findings of the house one morning. He sits at the table of the kitchen, dominated by a wood-fired cook stove.

Eversource, which collects money for the MassSave energy audit through electric bills, will pay 75 percent of the cost of up to 12 inches of attic insulation, doubling the 6 inches that’s there, Perrier says. It will also pay for insulation in the walls, which Perrier will continue measuring.

Back when this Greenfield Road house was built, “They didn’t insulate walls unless they put in corn cobs or old newspaper,” Perrier tells Weiner and his wife, Elise Barber, as their son, Efraim, plays nearby. “Who knows what you’d find in the walls?”

Instead of newspaper, New England Green Homes will use recycled newspaper and borate, also known as cellulose, which is dense enough to stop air flow through the walls and the attic, explains Perrier, and the only out-of-pocket expense would be 25 percent of estimated $3,000 cost.

Perrier says his crew will use sealant to cover the voids, and the work will be done for free there as well as in voids detected by the infrared camera around a nonfunctioning chimney.

“It will make your home much more energy efficient, by making sure there’s no leakage through there,” he tells Weiner, a rabbi at the Jewish Community of Amherst, and his wife, a cantor at Springfield’s Temple Beth El.

For the couple, who moved into the house 6½ years ago and invested over the first few years in installing a geothermal system, followed by photovoltaic panels, energy efficiency was a key driver in calling for a home energy audit.

In an effort last summer to encourage more people to get the home energy audits they were already paying for through their electric bills, the Grinspoon charitable foundation began working with Co-Op Power to mail 25,000 thermal images to homes in Greenfield, Deerfield and elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley.

The effort, Co-Op Power Executive Director Lynn Benander says, has resulted in 500 “ener-G-save” audits for customers, 50 percent of whom have never used the MassSave program. Some of those customers, in communities like South Hadley, Holyoke and Chicopee, where there are municipally owned utilities, have never had the opportunity to get energy audits before, except through community action agencies for income-eligible families.

She noted that solicitations for anything free seems highly suspect.

“There’s so much marketing noise around energy, and everyone is marketing something for free,” she said. Most people know that nothing is really free, so ‘selling’ free audits is a very hard thing to do, because people are suspicious.”

Yet, she added, it’s important to remember that everyone pays an Energy Conservation Charge each month that provides money for the mandated utility-run audit program, and the effort really is aimed at lowering energy usage.

The timing of the program coincides with rollout of the state’s new Market Value Performance program, which allows greater flexibility for authorized contractors and their customers to cut home energy use — especially those forms of energy that represent more significant greenhouse gas emissions.

The Market Value Performance model provides incentives for customers to switch to energy-efficient heat pumps, clean-burning pellet stoves, photovoltaic and renewable technologies and helps pay for air sealing and other measures that haven’t been included in MassSave.

“We’re very excited about it, because it really fits into our mission to help people become fossil fuel-free,” said Benander. “People can do more work, and from our perspective, it’s more cost effective if you do all the work while you’re in the home, rather than going back. We help people get matched up with the best contractors for their needs.”

At Weiner’s and Barber’s Deerfield home, Perrier also made suggestions for some simple landscaping approaches Weiner could use to cut down on cellar moisture. And he pointed out no-cost loans that could be available for changing heating systems.

“Your house is pretty big,” Perrier told Weiner, for whom any winter morning when he didn’t wake up seeing his breath used to be one he’d tell Barber was a pretty warm day. “If it’s insulated properly, it should hold the heat well. Even if you just air seal the basement and around the chimney, that should make pretty big difference.”

On the Web: ener-g-save.com

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