Brattleboro Citizens’ Breakfast – Home Energy Challenge – Notes

Brattleboro Citizens’ Breakfast, March 15, 2013, Gibson-Aiken Center – Brattleboro VT

Brattleboro Home Energy Challenge 

Vermont Home Energy Challenge 

Presenter: Tad Montgomery  –  ecological engineer, principal of Home Energy Advocates and member of the Home Energy Challenge and PACE sub-committees of the Brattleboro Town Energy Committee.

Tad began by asking the audience of about 25 people whether they had done energy efficiency retrofits on their houses since 2007.  About ? had. He noted that statewide it is 5.6%, or about 1% per year.  At that rate it will take 100 years to get to the 20%-30% goal the state has set for itself by 2020.  

Vermonters lose $600 million in fossil fuels for heating bills every year, 85% of which leaves the state immediately. Even if one doesn’t believe in global warming, energy efficiency is a program to keep our money local.

The cost of heating fuel has risen dramatically over the last 15 years, from about 80¢ per gallon in 1998 to $4.00 per gallon in 2013, an increase of 500%.

In an attempt to lead the country in renewable energy and dealing with global climate change, the Vermont Legislature in 2007 passed the Vermont energy efficiency and affordability act [Act No. 92 (S. 209)] stating, “it is a goal of the state, by the year 2025, to produce 25 percent of the energy consumed within the state through the use of renewable energy sources.”  The Act also includes goals for the state’s housing stock,  “to improve substantially the energy fitness of at least 20 percent of the state’s housing stock by 2017 (more than 60,000 housing units), and 25 percent of the state’s housing stock by 2020 (approximately 80,000 housing units).” We are not anywhere close to this goal. Only 18,000 houses have been retrofitted since 2007.  Much more needs to be done.

The Home Energy Challenge is a program designed to make this happen. Towns need to sign up and the Town of Brattleboro is on board, as are ten other towns in Windham County and 75 statewide.

If participants commit to making a change, there is a greater likelihood that they will act.  Part of the Challenge includes taking the pledge.

Much of the program involves efforts to raise awareness through door-to-door home energy visits, distributing door hangers to announce the Challenge, lawn signs for those who have undertaken substantial energy retrofits, phonathons and hosting parties given by those who have undertaken a retrofit.   

For every dollar that is spent on insulating a home, there is an average $2.05 direct benefit for the homeowner and $6.18 in indirect economic benefits to the town, region and state. A state incentive of up to $2,100 is available to homeowners who do retrofits:

“Efficiency Vermont offers up to $2,100 in incentives per household to help Vermonters pay for energy efficiency home improvements completed by a certified Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor. These incentives are funded by Efficiency Vermont and the Green Mountain Power Energy Efficiency Fund.”  Vermont Rebate Link

But homeowners can get the rebate if they do the work themself under the supervision of a certified auditor/contractor.  Federal incentives of up to $500 are also available in the form of tax rebates.

It’s easy to get 20-30% in energy reduction; even a 50-70% reduction is possible with a substantial commitment.

The process includes enlisting an independent energy consultant (optional), having a home energy audit done by a certified contractor that results in a list of recommended measures with projected measure costs, savings and payback time frames for each. A contractor can be hired through a bidding process and the independent consultant or advocate can help the homeowner to choose which measures are appropriate and identify the best financing.  

The rate of return on energy improvements as an investment will only rise over time as energy prices increase. A project can be cost neutral, i.e. the loan payback can be offset by the conservation savings.

Transition Brattleboro and Brattleboro Time Trade are local partners of the Brattleboro Home Energy Challenge. Volunteers can earn up to 15 time trade hours by helping with the Challenge.

Questions and Answers:

Acknowledging that 50% of the housing in the area is rental stock, it was announced that there is a plan to meet with the landlord association.

It was noted that the establishment of Brattleboro as a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) district is on the warning for Town Meeting (update — and passed!).

While an audit’s recommendations will vary from house to house, the most benefit is derived from air sealing — tightening leaks in basements and attics, blowing cellulose insulation in walls (with borax added as a fire retardant).  Fiberglass was said to be a fairly poor insulation.

The note was also made that air sealing strategies must also deal with moisture issues. 

A depressurization test studies how leaky a house is, i.e. how many times the house’s air changes per hour. 

Both heat recovery and ventilation are important. Not dealing with moisture properly in a tight house can effectively “compost” the house. 

Replacing windows is almost always the last thing on the list of improvements; payback is low.

Financing Home Energy Improvements

Comments | 2

  • This is great!

    I am looking forward to hearing more about what others in Brattleboro are doing to participate in the Home Energy Challenge. I’ve had an audit done and am working with Tad to come up with affordable retrofits for my home. I was skeptical at first because “affordable” is a tough challenge in my situation, but he’s convinced it can be done. I’m so glad the need for this kind of program has made it into public awareness.

  • Living in an older home there

    Living in an older home there are many ongoing needs to help keep it “energy efficient”. The never ending battle of wood cracking, shrinking, and expanding. Seals needing to be checked yearly with our older windows I make sure the window putty has not hardened and cracking or breaking off.

    My current house projects involve changing all our lights to “Led” lighting which seems to be a far better and welcomed light then the other energy efficient light bulbs. I do not know how much money or a drop in electricity demand they will bring. I just like the warmth and ease of reading with led lighting over the other choices. What I see to be the best means to have a energy efficient home is by being able to install solar panels to compliment our E.F. oil furnace. I know this will have the best bang for the buck in saving on home energy consumption. The greatest difficulty is location of the panels on the roofing that is not slate and getting enough sunlight to make it a worthy system.

    Growing up in the seventies and eighties I’ve been well educated by “This old house” and other great house maintenance shows on pbs and hgtv. It is always nice to learn more so thank you for bringing this information here.

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