Get An Energy Audit – reprinted from The Boston Globe Magazine 10/23/2011

In case you don’t buy a Sunday paper, you may have missed this which is part of a larger article “Guide to Going Green” by Vanessa Parks:

MassSave, expanded under the state Green Communities Act of 2008, is an initiative sponsored by the state’s major utilities  (and funded by a surcharge on bills) to subsidize and encourage energy efficiency.  First, get a free home energy assessment, during which a Mass Save specialist will spend about 2 hours checking out your basement, your attic, and everything in between.  During the energy audit, Mass Save will install as many as two programmable thermostats for free.  It will also install free water-saving faucet aerators and showerheads, as well as compact flueorescent light bulbs.

The specialist then draws up a list of recommendations to improve energy efficiency in the home.  “We provide a before and after type of picture,” says NStar’s Stack.  Homeowners are left with a document that outlines the estimated energy savings of various improvements (some of them are eligible for an array of state incentives and rebates).  “Some people do it in steps,” Stack notes.  “They say, We’ll do the insulation this year and update our heating system next year.” To schedule an audit call 866-527-7283.

People living in any of the 41 Massachusetts cities and town with municipally owned electric companies – among them Braintree, Concord, Danvers, and Wellesley – have to be customers of a gas utility in order to qualify for a Mass Save audit.  If  you don’t quality, a good place to look for a reliable contractor is the Mass Save website (mass-save.com), where there’s also an impressive collection of information regarding energy efficiency.  The approved contractors make improvements recommended b Mass Save audits,but some can also be hired for an audit independent of the program.  A comprehensive audit of a single-family home can cost about $500.

“I like to think we give a more thorough investigation” than the standard Mass Save audit, says Matt Beaton of Beaton Construction, a Shrewsbury company that specializes in energy-efficient and sustainable construction.  Beaton, who is also a state representative, says his audits often pickup issues that are not necessarily energy-related, like moisture problems.

Weatherize It

After an energy audit is conducted by Mass Ave, homeowners are given a list of contractors participating in the organization’s weatherization program (the list is also available online).

“It’s all fixed pricing, so it doesn’t matter who you pick on that list,” says Christine McEachern of McEachern Insulation Inc in Braintree, one of the participating contractors. She does, however, suggest that you select a contractor certified by the Building Performance Institute because of its specialized training.

Under the Mass Save program, plugging any holes where heat can escape – known as “air sealing” – is free for qualifying homes (among other things, the attic has to be easlily accessible). Workers detect ad close off as many tiny gaps and crevices as possible, such as those found behind switch plates, with caulk, spray foam, or weatherstripping.

The program rebates 75% of the cost of the next step – adding cellulose or fiberglass insulation – up to a maximum of $2k.  Mass Save pays he rebate directly to the contractors, so homeowners only need to shell out the initial 25%cost (plus anything over the $2k maximum).  It’s tough to say how much insulation a typical house will require, but McEachern’s 2700 square foot Cape was a $3500 job.

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