The truck idling while the hose is stuck into the side of our house, the oil-smeared shocking bill shoved in our mailbox. We could not live through another year of oil delivery. My husband and I have been pining for a conversion for years, but have put it off because of the costs. We finally bit the bullet and did it – the new gas boiler and indirect water-heater were installed at the end of last week. We have helped our clients with their own oil-to-gas conversions and now have been through the process ourselves. If you are considering such an upgrade or upgrades in your windows or insulation, there are significant financial incentives that can help defray costs – rebates and no-interest heat loans. I hope that reading about our experience will help you in making your home more efficient and comfortable.

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our new thermostat, directing the boiler to slow down for the day

PURCHASE OF UNIT:

We bought our new boiler through National Grid. We purchased a Burnham Alpine 96% efficiency forced hot water unit. We initially were looking at other manufacturers, but buying through National Grid, where the reduced-cost options are limited to American Standard and Burnham, was the best solution for us. The cost of the unit was about $1000 less than retail, which made them far less expensive than the units we looking at, for the same efficiency.

For Massachusetts and New Hampshire, go to www.powerofaction.com and click on “Covert to Natural Gas” to find purchase options and conversion assistance if you need contractor referrals. The site also has a link to tax credit information – these have been greatly reduced for 2011 and presumably for 2012.

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our new boiler and water heater – taking the place of the oil tank

ZERO INTEREST LOAN:

The zero-interest HEAT Loan for insulation and mechanical upgrades in the home, currently offered by many regional and local lenders, is a great way to defray the costs of the upgrades while saving with reduced energy use. MassSave coordinates the process, and although the their employees are helpful with questions, there is quite a bit of homeowner coordination required for the loan process.

The call and the energy assessment report

The process starts with the homeowner making the call to National Grid/MassSave (1-800-696-8077). MassSave then sends a home auditor to perform a free Home Energy Assessment Report for the home. For us, they scheduled an auditor right away – one of us needed to be home while the auditor visited. He took about 3 hours, and had the report for us at the end of his visit. The report is an assessment of the home which includes windows, doors, insulation, air leakage, and mechanical systems. The report includes recommendations for energy-savings and contractors to complete the efficiency upgrades, although the loan process does not require that you use those companies. In addition, insulation and sealant work is offered through National Grid, so for our house, the report also included a proposal for insulation. National Grid subcontracts directly to various companies and the price to the consumer is dramatically reduced with an instant rebate. Our house needs wall insulation – the proposal was for about $4000 with an instant rebate of $2000. Two important notes are that National Grid will inspect the insulation work as part of the assessment program, and for our house, the insulation work will cause some damage to our siding that we’ll be responsible for repairing.

Getting proposals

Once we determined what energy-saving projects we wanted to take on, we needed to get proposals from subcontractors to do the work. In our case, we already had the insulation proposal from the auditor, so we needed to get window supply and installation prices, and the mechanical installation prices. The mechanical subcontractor’s proposal needed to include a heat-loss calculation and the cost of the new equipment (minus the rebate) even though the boiler was being purchase by us. All proposals, the auditor’s report and the loan application form are submitted to MassSave. They process the paperwork, and if all is acceptable, send an Intake Form to the homeowner. The homeowner brings the Intake Form to their chosen bank to use for the Heat Loan.

The Loan

Our understanding is that the loan is a zero-interest seven year loan.  If approved, the bank issues 2-party checks for each portion of the work, made out to the contractor and the homeowner. (This assures that the homeowner isn’t using the money to go to Foxwoods.) We are still mid-process for the loan – we’ve submitted our paperwork to MassSave and are waiting for the Intake Form. Ideally, we would’ve started the process in July, secured the loan in August and completed the conversion before heating season. Since we started in October, we needed to buy the boiler and hire the plumbing contractor to install it without the loan. The loan can still cover the work if it has been completed, although obviously the risk with this approach is if we don’t get the loan, we still have to pay the plumber! If we get the loan, we’ll need to cash the checks with our plumber, who will then reimburse us the amount already paid. We know our plumber well – if we didn’t, it would be important to cover these financial maneuvers contractually.

REBATES:

Available through National Grid., the 2011 Residential Efficiency Rebates are for programmable thermostats, high-efficiency heating equipment and water heaters, and combined high-efficiency boiler and water heating units. For our boiler, which is 96% efficient, we’ll get a $1500 rebate and $25 each for the new programmable thermostats (I LOVE THESE). Our indirect water heater will gain us an additional $400. We’ll need a receipt or invoice showing the installation was done by a licensed contractor and the manufacturers name and model number of the units. See www.gasnetworks.com for rebate information and forms.

Our house was built in the 1790s. Every installed technology is a marvel and a beautiful contrast to the hand-sawn timbers and rubble foundation walls. Because we have heating zones in the house now, we are able to go up the stairs without a 20 degree change in temperature. We are thrilled to find that every room is comfortable!!!

Converting to gas does give us some pause, how much better is gas than oil? Dramatically increased efficiency of the heating system helps – and we also plan to install a pellet stove on the first floor to further offset our use of gas. After last month’s power outages, a lot of us are looking to wood and pellet stoves and generators so we can be independent of the grid if needed. When we think about our home’s history, a move toward ‘off-the-grid’ would bring it back to its beginnings, although in a more technologically advanced way.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or if you want to share your own experience through the quagmire of energy incentives. I can be reached at juli@greenbridgearchitects.com or 978.518.2811. Happy heating season!

This week, we were approached by a local builder who would like to build an Energy Star home. The bulk of our work is additions and renovations, and although we bring much of the same principles to our projects, we needed to look at the program (Massachusetts New Homes with ENERGY STAR) again to see what are the benefits and costs of getting the certification. New Homes with Energy Star is a straight-forward program built on common-sense good building practices. Basically, you can’t go wrong with the program – besides available incentives there is quick payback with dramatically lower energy costs and increased property value. The following is basic information on the Energy Star for Homes program from information found at the energy star website www.energystarhomes.com :

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Program Overview

The Massachusetts New Homes with ENERGY STAR program is a new construction program based on an energy efficiency standard developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ENERGY STAR qualified homes are at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-savings features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than homes built to local residential construction codes. The EPA’s initiative is supported in Massachusetts by a consortium of utility companies and energy efficiency service providers who collaborate to promote the benefits of energy-efficient, high performance homes. ENERGY STAR qualified homes are five-star rated and nationally recognized for greater value, lower operating costs, increased durability, comfort, and safety. Homebuilders are eligible for various benefits for building ENERGY STAR qualified new homes and homebuyers are demanding homes built to these specifications.

Features

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Save significantly on home heating, cooling, lighting, and appliance costs with an ENERGY STAR home.

A high quality ENERGY STAR home combines the best of traditional craftsmanship with the latest advancements in building science and technology for a home that’s more durable, efficient and economical to maintain. ENERGY STAR homes help eliminate builder callbacks for problems which are common in code-built homes, such as interior moisture damage and roof ice dams.

Many homes built today lack certain basic energy performance features — features that can save the homeowner thousands of dollars in energy costs. When properly incorporated into design and construction, energy-efficient detailing can significantly increase the comfort and quality of a home.

Some of the performance features that distinguish an ENERGY STAR home from an average quality home are:

Enhanced Insulation
Insulation is measured in R-Value: the higher the R-Value, the greater the insulating effect. Higher insulation levels in walls, floors, and attics result in better energy performance and improved homeowner comfort. The insulation value of windows and doors is also an important determinant of comfort.

Air Sealing
Simply caulking, foaming, and gasketing the holes and gaps in the heated building envelope can reduce annual heat loss and utility bills by over 15%.

Ventilation
All ENERGY STAR homes come equipped with mechanical ventilation, which ensures a continuous supply of fresh air to the home.

High-Efficiency Appliances
ENERGY STAR homes typically have high-efficiency household appliances, lighting, and heating and cooling systems, which use less energy to perform the same job.

With an ENERGY STAR qualified home, you get more home for less money. That’s because ENERGY STAR homes use proven technologies and advanced building practices to make sure your new home performs as well as possible. Each ENERGY STAR qualified home is inspected and “performance tested” to help ensure better energy performance, greater comfort, and a healthier living environment.

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ENERGY STAR Homes Benefits

Homes built in the 21st century are judged by how well they “perform” for their owners. The top two performance indicators are comfort and lower costs. A truly comfortable home is warm in the winter, cool in the summer, free from stuffiness and drafts, and quiet. At the same time, a home must be economical. ENERGY STAR qualified homes cost less to heat and cool than conventional new homes built nationwide. That means big savings every month, every year, you own the home.

ENERGY STAR Homes offer a variety of benefits to help you build a more comfortable, affordable home that is better for the environment. Discover what makes an ENERGY STAR home so much better!

  • Comfort and Health
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Performance Tested
  • Smarter Investment

A few questions from the ‘frequently asked’ page that we often hear:

How much does it cost to build to ENERGY STAR Homes standards?

Typically, the upgrades needed to meet ENERGY STAR Homes standards are in the range of 1% to 3% more than code levels. Of course, if your builder is already building at a level higher than code, the cost is even less. Unlike a hot tub, marble countertops or hardwood floors, the ENERGY STAR Homes energy upgrades begin paying for themselves from the moment you move in. How? Let’s say all of the upgrades total $1,500. This amount added to your mortgage, assuming a 30-year fixed rate of 7 1/4%, will cost $10 more per month in your mortgage payment. These upgrades, in turn, could easily result in a reduction of $360 or more in your annual heating/cooling costs. At a savings of over $30 per month, this gives you a positive cash flow for the life of your home. An ENERGY STAR home is a home that pays you back, while helping to protect the environment.

It all seems a bit complicated. What help can I expect throughout this process?

When building an ENERGY STAR home in Massachusetts, a consultant from ICF International will be your resource to help make the right energy decisions and to guide you and your builder through the process of building a high performance home. For all of your energy related questions, ICF will work hard to find the right, cost-effective answers.

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For more ‘frequently asked questions’ and plentiful information on the program, visit the Energy Star for Homes website at www.energystarhomes.com.

We are excited about our upcoming project, and see our involvement and the New Homes with Energy Star program as a means to help the builder create a better product, that will perform better throughout its years of use.

As always, we’d love to talk to you about this post topic and how it can help you in your upcoming project.  With best wishes for a wonderful summer,

Juli MacDonald, GreenBridge Architects  978.518.2811

Do green upgrades translate to increased home value?  The answer is sometimes.  It seems so obvious that improvements to your home that will increase energy efficiency (lower operating costs) or that use more healthful products (non-VOC, non-formaldehyde) would translate to a higher property value.  From the perspectives of the traditional lender, appraisor and realtor, this isn’t the case.

I first became aware of this while chatting with a real estate appraiser friend of mine.  I asked her how much value is placed on a home labeled as “Energy Star”.  Energy Star for Homes, one of a growing number of building certification programs, sets readily achievable benchmarks for sustainability.  This is primarily based on insulation and mechanical systems efficiency.  The program has become a solid baseline for quality construction and one that clearly benefits homeowners in terms of comfort and cost.  My appraiser friend had never heard of Energy Star for Homes.

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve learned that there are appraisers who are knowledgeable in green construction and use this knowledge in their appraisals.  Scott Hardin, of The Appraisal Guy based in Redding, Mass, is well-versed in construction technology and is considered a ‘green’ appraiser.  In some states, there is a certification for green appraisers – Scott is hoping to be the first in New England.

On the lending side, there are lenders who offer ‘green loans’ for a certified new home or for energy upgrades to an existing home.  The value of these loans is based on not only the increased anticipated value of the home, but also the borrower’s ability to pay more for the loan due to their lower utility costs.  Makes sense!  These forward-thinking lending options require that assessors are aware of added value in these ‘green’ improvements.  For information on these loans, Jeff Cole at www.myenergyloan.com is a great resoures.  Wells Fargo and other lenders are also creating green loan programs.

Similar smart moves are happening on the realty side.  Savvy and conscious realtors are learning about green construction and its value in the tight market.  Paulette Zuena at Remax in Andover, Mass. (www.YourPaulette.com) has become a great community resource on green building.  Another realtor, Boston Green Realty (www.bostongreenrealty.com) located in Boston and Haverhill, specializes in green listings and in outlining their benefits to potential buyers.  In addition, Boston Green Realty will work with buyers or sellers to add planned energy improvements into the purchase price of the home, and with the lenders to verify the added value of those improvements.

It’s exciting to see that financing and real estate are catching up with the value of green construction, making it more feasible to improve our homes one house, or one loan, at a time.

For more information on making green improvements to your home or in planning a new green project, contact Juli at GreenBridge Architects.

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