Save $$, Go Green with Free Home Energy Audits

by Katie D. McDonnell
As published in The West Roxbury Transcript
September 24, 2009

Residents of West Roxbury have a wonderful opportunity to save money and reduce their carbon footprint by taking advantage of free energy audits in their home.

Prompted by my enthusiasm as a member of one of the Low-Carbon Diet groups sponsored by West Roxbury Saves Energy, I signed up for an audit through NSTAR, my electricity provider. (National Grid also offers the service.) I booked the appointment for both units of our two-family home, and was told the dual session could last up to three hours. All that I needed to do to prepare was collect past utility bills and guarantee access to the basement and attic. When I called, the wait was approximately two months; it is now shorter.

Clarke Doody, armed with laptop, portable printer and an undergraduate degree in environmental science, showed up as the auditor for Conservation Services Group (www.csgrp.com), a Westborough-based company that administers the program on behalf of NSTAR and National Grid. He spent the next few hours assessing the energy condition of the two units; feeding raw data into his laptop; and issuing specific reports for each unit’s energy fitness. He checked the gas stoves, heating units, water heaters, insulation and window areas.

I had already taken a number of steps to save money and energy in our home recently. For example, we had been slowly replacing traditional light bulbs with the corkscrew-looking compact fluorescents, or CFLs. Clarke Doody made it easy to finish this changeover by both providing and installing for free new ones to fill the entire rest of the house — a savings of $122! (He also noted that wholesale CFLs could be found at www.efi.org.)

In addition to these proactive steps, the auditor added that I could: purchase a programmable thermostat (available for about $35); purchase an indirect hot-water tank; install a mini-split AC system (referring me to www.mycoolsmart.com for rebate information); use clear caulk to seal the juncture between the windows and the wood surrounds (each silicone tube costs about $3); and install exterior wall cellulose insulation. This last service is offered through CSG, and we decided to schedule the two-day process. In just two years, we will recover the cost of this service in our unit. (The out-of-pocket expense for one unit is approximately a quarter of the cost without the instant rebates.)

A wonderful facet of this audit was the “leave-behind” material. Clarke Doody printed out an audit report specific to each of our two units and noted all of the different choices we could make to increase our efficiency — with cost figures, savings and vendors listed. The report noted items eligible for certain governmental credits/refunds and included names of banks that provide affordable loans for installing new heating systems. Finally, we received educational information that gave clear explanations about ways to save energy and why, so that we could be more informed energy consumers, whether or not we opt for the more expensive upgrades.

For more information, a useful site about programs like this is MassSAVE (www.masssave.com or 866-527-SAVE