Take a Walk on the Warm Side

Exterior thermoscan done by Sagewell, Inc.

By Heather Aveson

One click of the curser and there it is – my home in all its fluorescent orange and blue glory. My house is one of the thousands in Lexington and Arlington that has been thermal scanned by Sagewell, Inc. as part of a Mass. Department of Energy Resources (DOER) program to encourage homeowners to take advantage of energy saving programs offered through mass save™.

Seeing where the leaks are is the first step in making your home, and mine, more energy efficient and comfortable during both the winter and summer. And it’s the first step in saving money through rebates, zero interest loans and “free stuff.”

Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I see. I bought this post-war cape three and half years ago. It’s reassuring to see all that blue on the walls, roof and door. But the windows are another matter. The bright yellow means there’s moderate heat loss in those areas. And I’d have to agree. It’s always drafty around the windows, even though they’re all double paned replacement windows. Hmm.

Next step, call Next Step Living for a free energy assessment. Next Step Living is a mass save™ participating Home Performance contractor. They will come in a do a no cost energy audit of your home. During the 2 – 3 hour audit areas of air leakage are identified, the furnace or boiler, water heater and gas range are safety tested, and recommendations are made for improvement. Two other really important things about the energy assessment – you get lots of free stuff to get you started saving money and, this is very important, it qualifies you for any of the rebates and incentives offered by mass save™. I’m going to repeat that because it’s really important. You must have an energy assessment done to qualify for the rebates or incentive programs offered by mass save™.

Energy Advisor Brian Fehlau is already at work when I show up for our appointment. He is taking outside dimensions of the house and making notes about the structure. We come inside and go over the assessment. Brian says it really covers three areas; a health and safety check, free stuff and opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

We go over my wish list. No there aren’t any programs that cover storm windows or leaky sliders. But, as we walk around Brian points out gaps between the molding and the windows that are letting cold air in. That’s an easy fix. Fill them with caulking and much of the draft should disappear.

There is rebate program that may help with boosting air conditioning to the second floor and save me money. Brian asks if I’ve ever thought about a heat pump. Not in New England I say. Having lived in the south I remember heat pumps as only moderately effective in extreme temperatures. Brian assures me that the technology has really improved and the pump works with the existing heating system during those really cold spells. Before the assessment is even over, Next Step Living has helped me set up an appointment with a climate control advisor to find out more about the possibility.

We walk around the house with an infrared thermal camera checking for wall insulation and heat loss. The walls look good. The crawl spaces along the roof line look good. Poking his head into the attic space Brian sees some loose and roll out fiberglass insulation. But there’s room for improvement. Air sealing the unheated attic space will cut down on heat loss, especially around the chimney. Open space around the chimney allows warm air to escape all the way from the basement up into attic. By air sealing around the chimney all that warm air will stay in the living space. And, it’s free. And by air sealing the attic it means the program will also provide sweeps on the bottom of all my exterior doors. For free.

Score two for savings.

In the basement Brian checks the efficiency of the boiler. 85%, not bad, but I make a note to call my oil provider for a cleaning and tune up. Brian checks the

Brian measure flue gasses on the boiler. Safety checks are one of the most important parts of an energy assessment.

draw of the flue and the carbon monoxide level around the burner. Flue gasses are 26, pretty good, anything over 100 fails. And the carbon monoxide is 00, just what he wants to see. Brian tells me these tests are probably the most important part of the assessment, and when he finds a problem, “because it’s a safety issue nothing else can get done until these issues are addressed.”

He also turns down the thermostat on my hot water heater. It’s been set at 144º and should really be around 120º.Savings.

From here we go into the attached garage, it’s under the chilly family room. Although previous owners sealed off the garage doors and added just a window and door, it’s still a cold space. Copper piping running through the space sends hot water into a secondary baseboard on the second floor. With no insulation the water in those pipes is cooling down pretty quickly, and because I rarely use those baseboards they could even freeze.

This is another easy, inexpensive fix. Enough foam pipe insulation tubing to insulate all the pipes costs me six dollars at Home Depot. And it takes about 15 minutes.

Score More savings.

Brian discovers that the ceiling of the garage, under the family room has no insulation. Taking care of that should make curling up on the couch much cozier. mass save™ will cover 75% of the cost of insulating the space.

BIG savings.

As we come to the end of the assessment Brian replaces one showerhead with a water saving head, I have programmable thermostats, but if you don’t they’ll be installed right at the assessment, absolutely free. Then we come to light bulbs. Full disclosure? I don’t like compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFL’s. I don’t like the color of the light, I don’t like the way they have to warm up and I don’t like the way they can buzz when you dim them. But I want to keep an open mind so we try them in the recessed kitchen lights. No, I still don’t like them. So Brian installs them outside and in storage areas where I don’t have to spend much time with them.

In my defense, I rarely use my electric dryer and my thermostat never goes above 66º. Call incandescent bulbs my energy vice.

We sit down and go over everything we saw. He prints out a report on the spot, complete with projected savings, recommendations and associated costs. For me the only improvement that would incur a cost is insulating the garage ceiling. The 75% rebate puts my cost at $189. Sign me up.

More savings. More comfort.

Overall, I’d say the energy assessment was a great success. Did I get everything on my wish list? No, but I learned a lot, found out how to solve several of the issues myself and have help making improvements I’d never touch on my own.

mass save™ rebates and incentives change from time to time. If you have an assessment and don’t get everything on your wish list, check back now and then at www.masssave.com for information on current programs.

I just did and found out there are substantial rebates on energy efficient pool pumps.


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