Take a look at big incentives for making your home more energy efficient
'We're just taking money and setting it on fire,' said Scott Shepherd, a Nashua-based carpenter who's been in the building trade over 20 years. With the high concentration of old homes in New England, Shepherd said the majority he sees are ill-equipped to conserve energy, mostly because of poor insulation.
In September he bought his first home, becoming the second owner of a house built in 1949. Everything is original, and he's hoping to get some winterizing done before the real cold starts to set in. Not only will there be plumbing and electrical upgrades; the insulation also hasn't been touched for 63 years, and some places have no insulation at all. This means adding a foot of insulation in the attic (heat rises), as well as in the walls, in the basement and in the floor system.
'Spend the money on the insulation and you won't spend it on the oil,' Shepherd said. 'It pays for itself.'
Mike Turcotte of Turn Cycle Solutions, an energy auditing and construction firm in Nashua, said for the average homeowner a well-placed $1,000 (combined with incentives from the feds and from energy distributors) can slash heating bills by even more than 30 percent.
One customer recently spent $1,800 to seal her house and insulate her attic — two improvements estimated to cut energy consumption by 33 percent and save her $766 a year. And with utility companies paying up to 50 percent of these costs, Turcotte said the investment will pay for itself in just over a year.
'It's probably the least thought of measure in anyone's home,' he said. 'It's not granite countertops, but it's a tangible thing for people to start to save from an investment you make in your home.'
For insulation added in conjunction with an energy audit, Liberty Utilities and PSNH customers (depending on their heating fuel) may be eligible for rebates of up to 50 percent of the cost of the project.
James Scott Brew, an architect at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colo., has over three decades of experience in sustainable design. As a member of the Passive House movement in the U.S. — a framework which seeks to cut energy consumption in buildings by up to 90 percent — Brew says it's amazing how inefficient the average American home is.
'Last time I looked the average home spends about $2,100 a year on energy,' he said, and there's many do-it-yourself upgrades that allow people to spend fractions of that.
The first DIY measure is to plug leaks. Brew said most people go right to insulation, ignoring the invisible cracks in their house.
'What they don't see are the cracks in the house—the air leakage that's occurring around windows, around door frames, including outlets, exterior walls.'
'I always tell people, when they say, 'Gee what should I do to my house? It's really an energy hog,' the very first thing is to plug leaks. Infiltration and exfiltration are more important than insulation.'
It sounds complicated, he said, but it's something almost any homeowner can do on their own: Pry off the window and door trim on exterior walls, and if there's no insulation, fill cavities with a low-expansion foam available at hardware stores.
If outlets and other holes are plugged, Brew said 'you can start to reduce energy bills by as much as 20 percent just doing that to the entire house.'
Another DIY improvement is to insulate water pipes, particularly where they exist in unheated spaces.
'Slip it over the pipe and you tape it and duct tape it and you're done,' Brew said. 'You deliver the heat to where you want it, to where people are, instead of losing it to unconditioned space.'
Though it's nice to have replacement windows, they are expensive, and most energy auditors agree they don't provide the biggest bang for your energy-saving buck. Brew said high-efficiency storm windows go a long way and can be significantly cheaper.
One way to make these upgrades is to phase them in over time, as old components need to be replaced.
'So if you know that you're going to be replacing a roof, for example, and you're in a hot, dry climate, you might consider putting on a lighter colored roof than the dark shingles you have now.'
He said even in mixed climates, where people heat and cool their homes, homeowners are better off with lighter roofs.
But for people like Brew, who center their careers on reducing energy consumption from the individual to the national levels, energy efficiency doesn't stop at winterizing a home. Daily behavior is the next big consideration.
'As people start to tighten up the house or insulate a little bit more and gradually make their house more efficient, the way we use the energy in our house becomes the biggest energy load,' he said.
This means unplugging appliances whenever possible, and setting items like cable boxes on standby instead of leaving them on.
'Those things are huge energy users,' he said. 'I unplug mine when I travel, I also keep it on standby mode when I'm not home.'
Free energy audits are available for low-income households through Southern New Hampshire Services, which receives funding through utilities and other groups.
Private firms like Turn Cycle also offer subsidized energy audits, and advise clients on the multitude of rebates available, including zero percent loans and tax credits. Visit them at turncyclesolutions.com.
A list of the programs available in New Hampshire is available through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at bit.ly/PMkWZd.