Big thanks to Brian Hodgson - Newton resident & Green Newton board member - for sharing this story.
With all of the crazy weather and news of climate change, a lot of people are looking at how they can make an impact. Ensuring our homes have less of a carbon footprint is one of the biggest actions we can take – namely better insulation, using heat pumps, and installing solar panels on the roof. I am in the middle of a project to install geothermal heat pumps in my home, in part because I care deeply about doing something about climate change. (I’ll share some more information on that project in another article.)
I live in a neighborhood of old Victorian homes in Newton, and these older homes certainly present challenges to retrofitting with new technologies. For example, installing air source heat pumps with ducting may require opening up walls, mending old lathe and plaster walls, and pulling out the original heating system with their steam or hot water radiators. However, when I took a walk down my street a couple of weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a number of my neighbors had recently installed heat pumps. I was curious as to their motivation: was it driven by a desire to be more climate friendly or were there more practical drivers? To find out, I visited two of my neighbors a couple of weeks ago to ask why.
Tanya and David
For my neighbors Tanya and David, the key driver was comfort in the home and reducing their electric bills. They had lived without central air conditioning for a number of years, but last summer it was almost intolerably hot in their house. The in-window air conditioners they had been using were noisy and the electricity costs were high. When they learned about the incentives from Mass Save, which can be up to $15,000 to put in heat pumps, they realized it would be a fantastic investment– and it would also improve the comfort of their home. Since air source heat pumps work to both heat and cool a home, they would not need a separate air conditioning system. As part of the incentive process, they were required to get a home energy audit and subsequently had to beef up their home’s insulation levels. Though the base estimated cost of insulation was $8000, over $7000 of that was covered by incentives, and their out of pocket cost was reduced to about $1000.
Susan and Michael
The second set of neighbors I visited, Susan and Michael, outlined that they had bought the house a couple of years ago and were looking at a number of ways they could make it more energy efficient. While they wanted to make their house less dependent on fossil fuels, attractive financial incentives and comfort in their home were also key drivers in their decision to install a heat pump. As part of their overall evaluation, they looked at a number of options, including upgrading the windows, adding solar, and installing heat pumps. Upgrading the windows turned out to be quite expensive, especially if they wanted to keep the character of the Victorian home, making them hesitate. At the same time, the old air conditioning system they had inherited was on its last legs and would require a large investment for a new one. Thinking ahead to the future, it made more sense to replace it with a heat pump system that could give them both heating and cooling instead of installing another air conditioning system. This reasoning, plus the great financial incentives, made installing a heat pump a great first step in their overall energy renovation plan.
Comfort and Saving Money are Key Motivators
The $15,000 rebate offered by Mass Save, along with an interest free loan, were critical in getting both families over the hump. Tanya said, “With the interest free loan– we pay $200 a month–it’s almost free money.” In addition, they will also continue to benefit from lower heating and cooling costs through the life of the system.
So, while we all have a desire to make an impact on climate change and reduce our carbon footprint, the more practical needs of comfort and saving money are often the reasons why people make the decision to change to heat pumps. Either way, it’s a win-win for everyone.
If you are interested in learning more about getting a heat pump for your home click here. Not sure where to start? Contact a no cost Wellesley Energy Coach today.
What was radical yesterday is reasonable today. Households all across the country are grappling with sudden spikes in energy costs, and a very short window to decarbonize.
For years, Rachel White (Byggmeister) and Audrey Schulman (HEET) have pioneered brand-new approaches to retrofitting our aging homes. Now these two leading lights will be sharing with us findings they recently presented at Building Energy Boston 2023. White will provide a definitive evaluation of the ‘superinsulation’ mode of retrofit. And Schulman will report on the current status of neighborhood thermal networks, now under construction in many locations. With a flood of federal funding, finding the optimal approach today involves questions not even broached a decade ago, and may not be what we expect. The residential sector must decarbonize at an accelerated rate.
About the presenters
Rachel White is CEO of Byggmeister Design/Build, a nearly 40 year-old residential remodeling company that is striving to serve as an exemplary steward of homes and to prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Rachel has been affiliated with Byggmeister since 2008, when she hired the firm to renovate her house. What started as an effort to reduce the energy and carbon footprint of her own home became her life’s work. Prior to joining Byggmeister Rachel taught modern Jewish history to adult learners. She holds a PhD in Religious Studies from Brown University and a BA in Religion from Haverford College.
Audrey Schulman co-founded HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) in 2008. A lover of maps, she created the first-in-the-nation statewide zoomable public map of utility-reported gas leaks. Through her co-leadership of the FixOurPipes.org study, she helped municipalities coordinate with utilities to find solutions to fix gas leaks faster and at less expense. She started the Large Volume Leak Study, which discovered a way for gas utilities to identify super-emitting gas leaks and repair them. Together with Zeyneb Magavi, she has developed HEET’s innovative solution to transition gas utilities from gas to networked geothermal, or systems of networked ground source heat pumps. There are several gas utilities now installing thermal networks in Massachusetts and New York.
Register here for this free, online event -- sponsored by JCAN-MA -- on Tuesday, June 20 from 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Newton's Studio for High Performance Design & Construction (SHPDC) is offering passive home tours in Wayland and Weston on Saturday, April 22 · 9am - 2:30pm. Register here.
This Earth Day fundraiser will offer visitors a unique opportunity to see, learn and experience passive houses, while supporting SHPDC's mission to educate and train people in the areas of High-Performance, Net Zero and passive house building.
From the design features, to the energy efficiency provided by the mechanical systems, these beautiful projects are ideal examples of what is possible in our community.
Tour 1: Wayland, MA passive home from 9:00am to 11:00am
Tour 2: Weston, MA passive house from 12:30pm to 2:30pm
Each tour will present these topics:
Overview of Design
Building Envelope Details
Renewable Energy and Back-ups
Integrated Design Project Delivery
There is a fee for this event but all proceeds go to Studio HPDC to support their focus on education and training in the areas of High-Performance, Net Zero and passive house building.
Participants are expected to provide their own transportation but, light refreshments will be served. Reserve your spot here.
Welcome Home, a Newton nonprofit organization, collects and redistributes like-new household items to hundreds of people in need each month with no fees, no forms and no requirements. They strive to provide families experiencing hardship with basic household items they need to live with dignity. Any items that they cannot use are repurposed or recycled appropriately, thus benefiting the environment.
With a waiting list of almost four months for families who have requested goods, the organization is low on the basics:
If you have extras of these items at home, please consider dropping off the items during a drop off shift held 3x per week. The items will be in their new homes by the end of the week, and these days, often by the end of the day. Make an appointment to drop off here. If you do not have a large donation and would prefer to drop them off in Wellesley, a resident is willing to bring 1-2 boxes/bags in for you. Email email@example.com for that information.
Welcome Home was chosen by the board of Green Newton to receive the 2022 Award in recognition for their work in the community to collect household goods and redistribute them to people in need.
Built Environment Plus awarded this home remodeling the Green Home of The Year.
Here is why:
The owners of this 1930 home reached out to the designers with a long list of frustrations. Their kitchen was cramped, dark and isolated. The half-bath was tiny and lacked privacy. Insufficient insulation and old, inefficient systems made for hot summers, cold winters, and high utility bills. While such frustrations are common for owners of older homes, the relationship these owners have with their house is anything but common. The husband’s grandfather was the home’s first owner, and his mother grew up there. He and his wife inherited the house and raised their children there. This family legacy imbued the project with special significance.
The design team reoriented the kitchen towards the back yard, adding a full glass door and three windows that beckon onto a generous deck. They widened the opening between the kitchen and dining room, eliminating a pinch point and visually connecting the front and back of the house. They addressed the comfort complaints, inefficient systems, and high operating costs with a comprehensive package of insulation, air sealing and HVAC measures. They insulated the basement walls with 2” of closed cell spray foam; dense packed the wall cavities with cellulose; insulated the underside of the roof with 3” of closed cell spray foam followed by 7” of cellulose; reduced air leakage by 58%; and replaced the gas heating and hot water and window air conditioning with ducted heat pumps and a heat pump water heater.
According to the judges, “The project demonstrates the value of preserving the embodied carbon of the home, which might have otherwise been demolished; yet accomplishes substantial energy savings and comfort improvements. The project preserved the original character of this home as well as its neighborhood and was done affordably. The judges were impressed with the practical approach that achieved such significant results.”
Have you thought about ditching gas and electrifying your home, but you aren't sure where to start or how to do it? There are Wellesley, State and Federal incentives and rebates to help.
You are invited to "Electrifying Your Home: how to ditch gas and electrify everything," co-hosted by U.S PIRG Education Fund and Rewiring America, on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 p.m. PT.
Electrifying your home not only can prevent air pollution, but also helps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Electric and induction stoves are efficient replacements for the dirty gas stoves that cause indoor air pollution in our homes, and along with electric space and water heaters, can lower our dependence on fossil fuels and help to power our lives with clean, renewable energy.
At this upcoming webinar, "Electrifying Your Home," they will discuss the benefits of electrification for cooking, home heating/cooling and water heating, and you can get your questions answered by experts and people who have recently made these changes in their own homes. They will also discuss some of the new incentives for consumers that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
RSVP for "Electrifying Your Home" today.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) is seeking around 30 homes to participate in the first cohort of the Decarbonization Pathways Pilot.
This new pilot will offer technical support, generous financial incentives, and performance monitoring to implement high-efficiency decarbonization measures. This is a great opportunity to get the technical support and financial assistance to bring your home into the 21st century!
Please consider applying before the end of the month, and sharing with those who may be interested.
We realize it's the summer and ironically we are talking about ice dams. Many of us have unfortunately experienced them, including Teri and Jamie Ebersole here in Wellesley. Over the last several years, they did piecemeal projects to protect themselves from recurring ice dam damage. However the dams highlighted to them the increasing severe weather due to climate change. Thus, when they decided to renovate their kitchen, they took a hard look at the resiliency of their home. In the end, they spent a fair amount of their renovation budget on aspects of their home that will make their family home more resilient.
What does that mean? Climate resilient buildings are built, or retrofitted, to withstand severe storms and natural disasters. The Ebersoles wanted their 1940 colonial – gone farmhouse – home to withstand extreme weather. They interviewed a few architects and builders and went with Wellesley’s Kraus Associates. After much research, and discussions with Abode and other energy efficiency experts, the Ebersoles now have a beautiful renovated, healthy and resilient home they are proud of.
This all turned out to be a valuable investment as well. The last 2 months they have only paid $10 a month for all of their electric cooking, heating/cooling, driving, laundry needs!
How are they doing this? They moved to electrical, high efficient systems, and fully insulated and weatherized their home:
They still have their gas-fired tankless water heater, since it was newish at the time of renovation, but that is the only gas in their home. They will likely replace it with an electric air-source heat pump water heater at its end of life. Since they have a family member with lung challenges, they are very happy to minimize the amount of unhealthy natural gas in their home.
“We love our house and want to stay here a long time, so it made sense to make it healthy, resilient and sustainable for the long-term.”
Curious who they used? See below:
Reduce your Energy Use/Cost...Without Compromising Comfort!
Below are some tips on what you can do:
Get an Assist from Mother Nature
Reduce Heat and Humidity Sources in the House on Hot Days
Improve Air Conditioner Management
Unlock $ With Sustainable Energy Investments
• Replace out-dated air conditioners with air source heat pumps
• Install a full-house attic fan and use cool evening air instead of air conditioning
• Install a lighter colored roof and paint the house a lighter color that will reflect rather than absorb the warmth of the sun’s rays
• Plant deciduous shade trees to block summer sun and provide cooling
• Install awnings, shutters or trellises on the sunny side of the house
• Better insulate the attic
Olin College of Engineering and Sustainable Wellesley’s Tiny High Performing Home Wins Chairman's Award During Wellesley’s Annual Parade
Thanks to the design and construction skills of Olin College of Engineering students Suki Sacks and Daniel Jaramillo, Sustainable Wellesley’s tiny high performing house took home the Chairman’s Award at the Town of Wellesley’s 54th Annual Veterans Parade on Sunday, May 22, 2022.
In March, Suki and Daniel met with us to scope out the building project. The first year Electrical Engineering major and first year Mechanical Engineering major went on to plan and build the home at Olin’s campus with tools on loan from the library and school machine shop with funds donated to support Sustainable Wellesley's efforts. Once the house was built, the Sustainable Wellesley team added some home-like touches and signage.
Since 63% of Wellesley's emissions come from buildings, this project aimed to educate and encourage residents to take actions that will make their homes more comfortable, less expensive to heat and cool, while helping the Town of Wellesley meet its goal to become Net Zero by 2050.
Although Suki had returned home to visit family before beginning her internship at VEIR, Daniel was in town for his internship at BAE Systems and decided to join in the parade.
“Helping Wellesley’s citizens understand the urgency of climate action within their own homes seemed even more pressing with temperatures in the high 90s during the parade,” said Daniel Jaramillo. “The worsening climate affects everyone’s health, resulting in dehydration, heat stroke, asthma, heart disease, Lyme disease, longer allergy seasons, eco anxiety, and much more,” Jaramillo said.
“We took on this project for the design challenge but also the concern for significant extreme weather impacts that communities face, including wildfires, droughts, floods and more intense hurricane seasons. Creating this house to educate the local community was one way we felt like we could ‘do something’, and we had a lot of fun working on it together!” said Sacks.
The Olin students generously volunteered their time during finals, amid COVID challenges and during dorm move out. This successful student/community collaboration earned the float the “Chairman's Award” during the Veterans Parade that honored Wellesley residents who are recipients of the Purple Heart.