How does it feel to be on the cutting edge of residential energy efficiency (EE) in Massachusetts? State Senator Will Brownsberger knows: he recently commissioned a significant deep energy retrofit (DER) on his Belmont home, which helped to reduce overall energy use by 74%.
I recently spoke with Mr. Brownsberger about his overall experience with the project, the challenges, and his thoughts on energy efficiency in Massachusetts. Brownsberger expressed overall satisfaction with the project, acknowledging that after selecting a contractor, going through the design process, and negotiating a price, everything ran very smoothly. The end product is a home with greatly reduced operating costs; one that his family is very happy with, and which is more comfortable to live in.
Since the completion of the retrofit, Brownsberger and his family have been determined to make the most of their investment. They have done so by running the house’s building systems in the most efficient way possible and using intelligent energy conservation practices. In a home with advanced energy systems, the technology and building materials do most of the work in terms of reducing overall energy demand, but personal practice and some behavioral changes are important to getting the most out of the system. Such homes are a comprised of an interactive system - “changes to improve energy efficiency can have a neutral, positive, or negative impact on indoor air quality (IAQ), durability, and comfort (Affordable Comfort, Inc. (ACI).” After a year of adjusting their energy practices to not only reap the greatest benefits of the system but also ensure the project was on track to meet the aggressive guidelines outlined in the ACI’s Thousand Homes Challenge, Brownsberger said that the family “pretty much settled out our approach” to energy use and energy management in the home. The process never ends, however; there is always room for improvement.
One of the major things the project highlighted for Brownsberger was just how important efficiency is, and how, according to Brownberger, “an energy efficiency strategy has the potential to have a faster payback than would an investment in renewable energy”. The residential energy efficiency imperative is strong in the state. Massachusetts and other states in the Northeast, have housing stock that is generally old and ill-insulated. We are lucky in Massachusetts to have the MassSave program, which offers generous rebates to subsidize home energy upgrades of all sizes – from lights to heating systems and insulation. There are many measures short of a deep energy retrofit that can have a significant impact on energy use and offer quick paybacks, without breaking the bank. Small EE retrofit measures – the “low-hanging fruit” like lighting – are incredibly important and should be capitalized on in the short term. Looking longer-term, there should be a trend in residential EE retrofits towards DERs, which can achieve more significant energy savings.
The project’s most significant challenge according to Browsberger, was money. Due to the advanced technologies, materials, techniques, and labor involved, the project was not cheap. Brownsberger’s DER was however, aided by a significant incentive from National Grid’s DER Pilot Program. We can only expect that over time, as positive results are duplicated in other deep retrofits, utilities such as National Grid will more significantly back projects such as this one. As with any innovation, the more common and adopted such deep and holistic projects become, the more the costs will be reduced.
This is part two of a two part blog series. Please see part one to learn more about the project’s specifics, including details on the home’s achievement in ACI’s Thousand Homes Challenge.