Little Fixes, Big Savings!

Homeowners Come in from the Cold with Rebate Program

Installing Insulation

By Heather Aveson  |  The above average temperatures and lack of snow can lull us into thinking winter’s not so bad this year. But as the recent frigid weekend proved, Old Man Winter never really takes a vacation. That cold tingling on the back of your neck as you enter a room? It either means you’ve got a poltergeist or there’s a draft letting in the outside cold and robbing your energy dollars. But there’s help available, at least if it’s a draft.

Last fall the Sustainable Lexington Committee partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Resources (DOER) to encourage residents to take advantage of state funded programs that increase home energy efficiency, saving the homeowner money and making the house more comfortable. Massachusetts offers state rebates of up to $2,000 a year for insulation, air sealing, and other upgrades through the program. So you can spread out upgrades over several years to take full advantage of the program. There are also 0% loans for burner replacement available and some energy suppliers are offering rebates on new systems as well.

Travis Estes of Next Step Living says its important homeowners understand how the program works. “You have to have an energy assessment to take advantage of the program. You can’t get the rebate or the 0% loan without it. People tell me they had work done and they want the rebate, but without the assessment, they end up paying for the whole thing themselves.” You could say without an energy assessment, you’ll be left out in the cold.

Next Step Living is a Mass Save participating Home Performance contractor. They’ll come to your home and do a no cost energy assessment. The 2 ½ hour assessment will identify areas of air leakage, test the efficiency of your furnace, boiler or water heater. They will also check check carbon monoxide levels and from your burner or gas range. Then they’ll make recommendations to improve safety and efficiency.

More than 122 Lexington homeowners have already had an assessment. Many homeowners have completed improvements or are in the process of having upgrades done.

One of those homeowners is Joel Adler. He’s very glad he took advantage of the deal. Joel had been getting letters from the gas company comparing his energy usage to his neighbors, which showed he was using substantially more gas each month. So when he heard about the program he signed up for an assessment. “What they found when they went into the flue from the gas boiler was the carbon monoxide level was over 2000ppm. It should be at or below 100ppm. If anything had happened, my wife and I would have been gone.” Next Step Living suggested bringing in an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) contractor to clean the boiler. They dusted and vacuumed around the cast iron heating tubes and calibrated the air supply. After the work Mr. Adler says the CO readings are now in the mid-80’s. Although there hasn’t been time to analyze energy savings since the work, his health and safety are worth more than any savings. The Adlers will be also be insulating their attic in the next few weeks based on the assessment.

Checking the water heater

Travis Estes says the problems found in the Adler’s home are two of the most important, and common, issues they find. “High levels of CO can be found through the assessment. We check anything with a flame; including burners, water heaters, and gas ovens.” He also reminds everyone to

Make sure your home is equipped with working Carbon Monoxide detectors and

Have your burner checked and cleaned on an annual or bi-annual basis.

Attic insulation and air sealing is another common problem and one of the biggest heat drains. Regardless of a home’s age most attics aren’t adequately sealed or insulated. Travis Estes says attic insulation was never a building code requirement in the past so most contractors skipped the step. But, think back to basic science, heat rises. If the heat in your home is rising into a poorly insulated attic, all that heat is lost. The trick is to keep the heat in the living area of the home. That’s what air sealing and attic insulation accomplish.

Insulating a floored attic can be a bit more difficult. But Mr. Estes says it can still be done using a compressed cellulose insulation. Plan ahead—if you’re building a house or ready to renovate, make sure you insulate and air seal the attic from the start.

Sustainable Lexington and Next Step Living are working with Sagewell, Inc. as part of the DOER program. Sagewell is conducting and analyzing thermal scans of houses in Lexington and several other towns through out the state. About half the houses in Lexington have been imaged so far. If you’d like to see a visual representation of your home’s heat loss, go to If your home has already been scanned you can log in to see an analysis of where your home is losing heat and steps to correct it. Pasi Miettinen of Sagewell says they’ll be out in the next few weeks scanning more houses. They’ll also be re-scanning homes that have been upgraded so owners can see the difference in heat loss. The warmer winter hasn’t slowed down their work and Pasi says every time Old Man Winter roars things pick up, “We see an increase in our website traffic on cold and windy days when people feel uncomfortable in their homes. We can almost measure the visitor count using wind speed indicators.”

Mark Sandeen of the Sustainable Lexington is happy to hear homeowners are taking the first step. “The people who have done the assessment and upgrades are very happy with the process and the results they’re getting. What we’d like to see is more people participating.” That’s something that Joel Adler would like to see as well. “I’d had prior checks on my burner and they didn’t find anything. They’d just kind of eyeball it. These guy were really experienced. It’s an important story that should get out there.”

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