Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
I haven’t given much time to write about my experiences with the Getting to Zero contest like I intended, so I thought I would pen some of my impressions and what it has entailed so far.
First of course I got my National Grid energy audit, which was good but not as thorough as the audit I would get later on. A couple weeks ago, a team of four students from UMass Lowell and their professor showed up for a couple of hours of testing, measuring, and surveying.
They were very professional and courteous and had quite a lot of questions for us, as well as perusing our energy use from some of our latest bills. By and far the best physical test they performed is what is called the door blower test.
They set up a contraption made of plastic panels with seals into one of our doors, where one panel had a powerful fan built in. The process blows air out of your house at a rapid rate, lowering the air pressure in your home as compared to the outside. Because the day was fairly cold, the air outside, now at a higher pressure, comes into every crack and crevice of your home and is quite easily felt with your hands. So you are able to find all the worst air leaks so to seal them and prevent less heat from escaping your home in winter.
Our blower test surprised me in several ways. First, we had always assumed our myriad oversized windows were a point of major heat loss. All windows to some extent are, and though ours are vinyl, they looked to me quite old and outdated. However, the windows must have been carefully installed, because when they were properly locked and sealed, most of the windows felt pretty good. With no major leaks in the casings and having vinyl windows everywhere in the house, we could be confident that the last place we should be spending money to go green was on our windows.
Our funky front door, however, left a lot to be desired. It leaked like a sieve! But some inexpensive weather stripping will take care of that. We also found other odd places that leaked: the cut-off pipe-holes in our floors where old radiators had been taken out leaked pretty hard, as did our cellar, from which a wooshing breeze could be felt standing in the doorway to the stairs. One bad leak was where our heating system vents, and there are alternatives for these, but it’s also likely that where our foundation meets the frame there’s places open to the elements. Being a finished basement, it’s hard to know for sure. Of course, if we sealed the door to the cellar with stripping and/or a door cozy or whatever they are called at the bottom, at least in the meantime we can avoid some of the cooling issue we have with the basement (which in the winter we do not heat, finished or not).
We also talked to the evaluation team about the possibility of PVs, photovoltaics (aka solar electric panels) on our almost-due-south-facing second floor roof. In the report from the team, which is pages and pages of information, they outlined what such a system would look like, what it might cost (before and after rebates and incentives). Very useful.
In the report, there’s also information on better home insulation (estimated cost of stripping the siding, putting in 3 inch extruded foam, and residing). Obviously this is a huge expense, although it could reduce total energy usage by quite a lot.
With report in hand, I headed today into the offices at DPD to go over my application with Aaron and Sandy, who spent quite a lot of time with me, going over the students’ report and discussing my application and proposal with me. Since the contest does not require the finalists to spend the money up front (which we really cannot do), I’m definitely going forward and putting my second phase application in. It’ll take some work to finalize our proposal, as I’ll need quotes from some contractors to get a real sense of the total cost, and I have some homework to do (Sandy suggested I get more certain as to whether or not our finished basement is actually insulated, I’m guessing not), but there’s no real reason not to do this.
Even if we don’t win, the process was still worth it because now we will have a blueprint with which to go forward, for making many of the improvements ourselves over time. And given the incentives now coming available with the stimulus and other new grants, that could be sooner rather than later. It’s better to be prepared!
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