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Archive for the ‘Vermont Home Energy Efficiency’ Category

New Year’s Resolution – Cut your Fossil Fuel Use

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

As we ring in the new year, we can celebrate some good news for homeowners looking to cut their fossil fuel use in 2016. At its final session in December, the U.S. Congress passed an extension for many of the most popular tax incentives for wind and solar. This provides a healthy boost to the development of new renewable power sources and will speed up replacement of fossil fuel and nuclear electricity generation with cleaner sources.

The economic advantages of extending the wind and solar tax credits go beyond price. A recent article in Bloomberg New Energy Finance states, “This is exactly the sort of bridge the industry needed. The costs of installing wind and solar power have dropped precipitously—by more than 90 percent since the original tax credits took effect—but in most places coal and natural gas are still cheaper than unsubsidized renewables. By the time the new tax credit expires, solar and wind will be the cheapest forms of new electricity in many states across the U.S.”

What does this mean for the average Vermont homeowner? It’s wonderful news because in 2016, many Vermont homeowners will qualify for credits and rebates for:

  • Making home energy improvements such as new windows, adding insulation, envelope and duct sealing.
  • Installing efficient air conditioners and heat pumps.
  • Purchasing gas or oil furnaces and furnace fans; and gas, oil, or electric heat pump water heaters.
  • Purchasing hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles.
  • Installing qualified solar water heating and photovoltaic systems, small wind and geothermal heat pump systems.
  • Installing qualifying fuel cells and microturbines, although these systems are not widely available for homes.

Many of these incentives are available for new construction as well. So if you are building a new home in 2016 be sure to talk to your builder about getting your house Energy Star® rated.

There’s no doubt that with so many different programs, credits and rebates, the average Vermont homeowner may be confused about where to begin. Start by checking these on-line resources:

For low-income Vermonters there are additional options for low-cost loans and subsidies for home energy improvements. Check the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website for more information.

Don’t forget about low-cost loans for efficiency upgrades that are widely available for all homeowners in Vermont through the Heat Saver Loan program. Also, VSECU offers a number of energy-related loans.  In many cases, the cost for your loan payment is more than covered through immediate savings on heating fuel and electricity costs.

Our core mission at the Energy Co-op is to provide our members with information, incentives and services that help to reduce their fossil fuel use. That’s why we’ve established our business model as a one-stop shop for home energy efficiency. Our service and installation teams are all NORA certified and because we are a non-profit Co-op, you can rest assured that the price you pay for service and upgrades will be fair and competitive. We’ll help you navigate through the maze of options for rebates and incentives and prioritize improvements that will offer the best return on your investment.

Why not contact us today?  We’ll be happy to help you make a New Year’s resolution that will improve the safety and efficiency of your home, keep more money in your wallet and help save the planet at the same time.

How to be a Climate Change Hero

Monday, December 21st, 2015

The Paris Climate Action agreement signed last week has given new hope to those of us who are concerned about climate change and want world  leaders to join together to find ways to help. At home, President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to 28% of 2005 levels.

While we applaud the global agreement and think that government goals and promises are a good start, we know that change must also take place from the bottom up, starting in our own homes and backyards.  These changes give new meaning to the old adage, “Think global, act local.”

Most experts in climate change science agree that increasing efficiency is the low-hanging fruit for reducing our carbon emissions.  In fact, many sources including the Natural Resources Defense Council, continue to put efficiency at the top of the list for consideration by both individuals and businesses.

Energy Efficiency 101

Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a comfortable and well-lit home or making painful sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and easy to implement. With the many attractive financing options now available, some upgrades can even save you money from day one. Consider these five options:

  1. Upgrade your home energy systems.  Consider a new energy-efficient furnace, cold-climate heat pump, or roof top solar panels.
  2. Weatherproof your home. Install storm windows and close curtains at night to reduce heat loss and energy use. Upgrade insulation in walls, basements and attics to save up to 30% of your energy bill. Not sure where to start? Get an energy audit to provide guidance and to set priorities.
  3. Install low-flow showerheads and wash your clothes in cold or warm water.
  4. Change your lights. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs to eliminate 150 pounds or more of CO2 per year for each bulb you replace.
  5. Plant trees and shrubs. Trees absorb CO2 and give off oxygen. One tree will absorb over a ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

What About Conservation?

If you aren’t willing or able to spend money on efficiency improvements, consider conservation. Often confused with efficiency, energy conservation involves behavior changes that don’t cost anything extra but can have a big impact on your home energy use.

  1. Drive less. You save one pound of carbon dioxide for each mile of driving you eliminate.
  2. Stop idling. Turn off your engine when you are picking up your children at school or waiting in a drive-through line.
  3. Cut hot water use. Turn your hot water heater thermostat down to 120 degrees. Run your dishwasher and washing machine with full loads only.
  4. Adjust your thermostat. Moving your thermostat down just two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer could eliminate about 2,000 pounds of CO2 a year for an average household.
  5. Turn off “ghost “power. Plug televisions, computers and other appliances into a surge protector and switch off the surge protector after you turn off the appliances – or use an advance power strip.
  6. Recycle and reuse. Recycle your old newspapers and magazines, cardboard, glass, metal, and recyclable plastic containers. Find creative ways to reuse items instead of discarding them.
  7. Be green in your yard. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  8. Shop smart. Buy products with less packaging and reusable or recyclable packaging in the first place.

Calculate your household’s carbon footprint

Before you upgrade or conserve, you can check the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate household greenhouse gas emissions arising from your home energy use, transportation and waste disposal. This tool helps you understand where your emissions come from and identify ways to reduce them. It can also give you a way to measure your progress.

Spread the word

Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends that energy efficiency is good for their homes and good for the environment. The small steps each of us take today to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution will add up to a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.

Energy Audits: What you don’t know can cost you money

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Home energy audits can save you moneyPromoting energy efficiency may seem counter-intuitive for a home heating fuel dealer. After all, the more energy efficient our customers’ homes are, the less fuel we sell.

But the Energy Co-op of Vermont is a bit different. Our mission is to help our members save money on heating and cooling their homes while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.  We encourage our members to begin this process with a home energy audit. Since we began offering energy audits two years ago, more than 35% of those who completed an audit have made at least one of the improvements that were recommended in the Co-op’s audit report.

What’s an energy audit?

An energy audit is a thorough evaluation of your home’s energy use performed by a qualified contractor. If your home’s heating system is more than 15 years old, the audit should also include a heating system inspection and evaluation. A complete energy audit also addresses related problems such as mold, dampness, drafts, ice dams and indoor air quality. The audit results in a list of recommended improvements. Typical recommendations include sealing air leaks, adding insulation and improving ventilation.

How do I choose an energy auditor? 

A good place to start is the Building Performance Institute website. This resource can help you find companies and individuals in your area that have been trained, tested and certified to BPI’s standards. These standards include using the “house-as-a-system” approach to improve the performance of existing homes – an approach proven to reduce home owner’s energy bills by 20 percent or more. Working with a certified energy auditor also provides the assurance that the improvements you decide on will result in real energy savings, be code compliant and installed safely.

Efficiency Vermont’s web site includes a searchable, state-wide list of certified, home performance contractors and energy auditors. The Energy Co-op of Vermont is on the list.

How do I pay for the improvements?

Many energy efficiency improvements are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. For more costly projects, there are a variety of options for financing and rebates. For major improvements like home heating system replacements, check with your local lender or credit union for home equity loans or special energy efficiency financing.

Two great energy improvement financing options in Vermont are the Heat Savers Loan Programs from  VSECU and Opportunities Credit Union.

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 contractor.

What’s my payback?

It is easy to calculate the short-term savings from most improvements by measuring your reduction in heating fuel usage year to year. Many projects pay for themselves quickly, while major improvements can demonstrate a reasonable payback over a longer period time.

But the real rewards come in less tangible ways like a more comfortable and secure home and the benefit to the environment of burning less fossil fuel. What starts with an energy audit can result in cleaner air for the planet and more money in your pocket.

 

How Smart Are “SMART” Meters and Thermostats?

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Smart technology has been fully integrated into the way we talk to each other, drive our cars, cook our food and pay for things.  Whether you think this is a blessing or a curse depends largely on whether you have embraced the technology or become frustrated trying to install the latest app or device.

When it comes to your household energy consumption, there are several smart technology options that enable you to save, track or control your energy use.  Which ones should you consider and why?

 SMART METERS/SMART GRID

Vermont joined the smart meter movement in 2008, when state officials and utility executives announced plans to install the devices. The claim was that smart meters would benefit both utilities and consumers by allowing power prices to vary in response to demand which would encourage consumers to run power-hungry appliances like dishwashers and clothes dryers at night when demand is low.

On the opposing side, some individuals and special-interest groups expressed concern over the long-term health effects from exposure to the radio-frequency radiation emitted by smart meters.  Digital data privacy concerns prompted electric companies, the federal government, and the suppliers of critical electric grid systems to work together to strengthen consumer safeguards and develop a validated data security model.

In May of 2012, the State of Vermont passed legislation allowing utility customers to opt-out for free if they did not want a smart meter installed at their home.

If your home has a smart meter, the data can help you identify easy ways to reduce electricity consumption. In this regard, Efficiency Vermont has recently launched a consumer engagement tool, the first of its kind in Vermont. Under this year-long pilot program, 100,000 Green Mountain Power customers, will receive customized home energy reports including neighborhood energy comparisons and tips to save energy.

SMART DEVICES

Our favorite smart device, hands-down, is the Nest thermostat. Turn it up, turn it down. The Nest Learning Thermostat remembers what temperatures you like, creates a custom schedule for your home, and turns itself down when you’re away. Once it’s learned your schedule, Nest can save up to 20% on your heating and cooling bills. Your smart phone, tablet or computer acts as a remote control to allow real-time control of your heating and cooling system.

To date, the Energy Co-op has installed more than 50 Nest thermostats in collaboration with Efficiency Vermont’s smart thermostat study. Under this program, the Co-op’s service technicians have been installing $249 Nest thermostats for only $75. (The Co-op is no longer accepting requests under this program. ) We look forward to seeing Efficiency Vermont’s results when available in a year or two. Our hope is that the Nest thermostats help cut home energy use and also helps to identify homes that would benefit from energy upgrades.

BOTTOM LINE

We don’t think you should be afraid of the new smart technology. It can help you save energy and money and help your utility provide a more secure and efficient power supply for your home. If you are confused or have questions, here are a variety of resources that can help you.

Other resources:

Smartgrid.gov

Vermont Digger

Nest thermostat website

What is Smart Grid.org

Efficiency Vermont

Creative Financing for Home Energy Efficiency – Save Now, Buy Later

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

“What is my pay-back?” is the question homeowners often ask when they are considering an investment in home energy improvements.  In the renewable energy community, we like to think that the real pay-back comes in the form of saving fossil fuel and improving the planet.  However, we know that financial considerations are most often the driver for these important homeowner investments.

Green Mountain Power’s recent announcement of their On-Bill Energy Improvement Loan program is a real boost for homeowner s seeking to improve their home’s energy efficiency while keeping their monthly budget intact.  This program allows homeowners to keep their average monthly electric and heating fuel payments stable while adding value to their homes with solar, thermal and energy efficiency improvements.

Unlike leasing, GMP’s program allows homeowners to benefit from federal and state tax credits and rebates.  Over the long run, this reduces the pay- back time for these improvements and also allows homeowners to build equity in their home.

The PACE Program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is another attractive financing program for Vermont homeowners.  PACE finances energy efficient home improvements and links the payments (through property tax assessments) to the property rather than the homeowner.  This way, financing can be transferred to a new homeowner whether or not the assessment has been paid off.  This ensures that homeowners make an investment that will serve them in the short term and serve future residents of the home through lower energy bills and improved comfort.  PACE loans can also be paid off in full at any time.  Assessment payments for PACE financed improvements are repaid with low fixed payments for a period of up to 20 years.

Efficiency Vermont has more info and a list of towns in Vermont that are eligible for PACE financing.  Towns that adopt PACE financing options benefit from the improvement of the overall energy efficiency for the town’s housing stock while promoting local job growth in the energy efficiency sector.

Of course, traditional home equity loans are also a great resource for financing energy efficiency.  Many homeowners do the math on projected monthly energy savings vs. their monthly loan payments for the equity line and find themselves with positive cash flow right from the start.  Home equity loans have other advantages:  homeowners can include a variety of improvements that might not be approved by other energy-related programs, such as major appliance upgrades, window replacement and landscape improvements.  VSECU has an attractive range of home energy loan products .

No matter which way you slice it, lowering your heating fuel and/or electricity usage brings benefits to your home’s value, your bottom line and most importantly, the planet.  At the Energy Co-op of Vermont , we have a variety of programs and services that can help jump start your path towards an energy efficient home.  Call us today at (802) 860-4090 or send an email to info@ecvt.net.

Home grown heating – why wood pellets beat fossil fuels

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

At the Energy Co-op of Vermont, we are encouraged to see the recent positive trend in the use of wood pellets for heating fuel.  Across the country, there are a wide variety of incentives, rebates and initiatives feeding this trend.  In a rural state like Vermont, where the price volatility of traditional heating fuels like oil and propane can be a real hardship for homeowners , this “home grown” solution is particularly appealing.

Many states are awakening to the benefits of wood pellets, not only for cost savings vs. fossil fuels, but also for lower emission ratings.  Says John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat during an August 6th Biomass Thermal Energy Council webinar, “Residential wood heat has risen dramatically in recent years, especially in Northeast and Great Lakes states, in some cases, by 100 percent… incentive programs are guiding consumer purchasing and steering people to cleaner and more efficient appliances.”  Ackerly added that he sees programs requiring professional installations and home energy audits as additional new trends.

The “secret sauce” of wood pellets is made with ground wood, waste wood, paper, bark and other combustibles and turned  into bullet‐sized pellets that are uniform in size, shape, moisture, density and energy content.  Here’s how the Pellet Fuel Institute describes the benefits of wood pellets:

  • Moisture content of pellets is substantially lower (4% to 8% water, compared to 20% to 60% for cordwood or chips), increasing burn efficiency and allowing for more fuel to be transported in a given truck space, and more energy stored at your home.
  • The density of pellet fuel is substantially higher than cordwood (40 lbs. per cubic foot vs. 23 lbs. for cordwood).
  • Uniform shape and size allows for a smaller and simpler conveying system that reduces costs compared with fossil fuels?
  • Pellet burners feature the lowest particulate matter emissions of all solid fuel burners, and since pellets burn so efficiently (system efficiency averages 80 percent), emissions from pellet burners meet even the most stringent EPA requirements.
  • Once the ash is emptied periodically, it can actually double as a fertilizer.

There are some incentives available to assist Vermonters who are interested in transitioning to wood pellet boilers.  Efficiency Vermont currently has a pellet boiler incentive program which offers rebates to qualifying homeowners who want to replace their oil or propane furnace with a pellet boiler.

In some cases, the transition can be very simple.  Pellergy is able to replace your old oil burner with a new wood pellet burner simply by screwing and unscrewing about six bolts.  In other instances, old oil and propane boilers are replaced by new pellet boilers, like those that Pellergy offers .

There are a lot of good reasons to switch to wood pellet heating systems. Wood pellets can be locally sourced, and are clean-burning, stably priced, and abundant.  Furthermore, if you switch from fossil fuels to wood pellets you can cut your fuel bills by 25% or more every year!

At the Energy Co-op of Vermont, we have been delivering wood pellets to our customers since 2008.  We are proud to feature premium pellets from Vermont Wood Pellet Company which burn hotter and create less ash than other pellets.  The Co-op  is also the only wood pellet provider in Vermont that offers an EASY PAY (replace with Easy Pay) budget payment plan so that our members can spread the cost of their pellet purchases over ten months of the year.

Interested?  Just stop by the Energy Co-op’s office to learn more about our delivery program and pick up your free bag of wood pellets.

 

 

Mobile Home Efficiency

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Mobile homes here in Vermont offer many opportunities for energy savings. There are 22,000 mobile homes in 244 parks scattered across the state. They make up more than 7% of our housing stock. Nearly 75% of Vermont’s mobiles are more than 40 years old. With few new mobile homes being built, many owners are busy looking to retrofit and improve their older homes, and to make them more energy efficient.

Improving mobile home efficiency starts with a few easy upgrades:

1) Furnace tune-up: Making sure heating systems are working as efficiently as possible keeps heating bills down. Furnaces should be serviced by professional technicians once a year.

2) Fixing Drafts: Sealing cracks around doors, windows and other spots doesn’t cost much and can cut energy use by 10% or more.

3) Insulation: Blowing insulation into the belly of a mobile home can help keep winter’s cold air from creeping in through the floors. If there is space between the roof and the interior, insulation can also be blown in to help reduce heat loss through the roof.

4) Storm Windows: Interior storm windows help reduce heat loss during Vermont’s coldest months.

5) Energy efficiency:  When installed correctly, modern light bulbs and power strips help homeowners save on electric bills each month. Every penny counts and money not used on utilities can be spent elsewhere.

With financial support from Efficiency Vermont, the Energy Co-op is working to help mobile home owners save energy and money. Our goal is to work with mobile home owners to make simple improvements and to identify opportunities for future energy upgrades. If you are a mobile home owner here’s what the Energy Co-op provides:

  • energy-saving light bulbs, aerators and shower heads
  • an advanced power strip
  • pipe wrap insulation
  • information on energy saving opportunities
  • a walk-through assessment of your home to look for more ways for you to save energy and lower your kerosene bills.

All of this, plus a tune-up for only $49. Call the Co-op before May 31, 2014, if you’re interested: (802) 860-4090.

For more simple tips to help Vermont’s mobile home residents save money, save energy and live more comfortably, check out “Do-it-Yourself Mobile Home Energy Efficiency” (PDF) from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

Winter Heating Tips: Attic Heat Loss

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

It may be obvious to some but many folks don’t realize just how much heat they lose through their attics. Poor attic insulation and sealing can result not only in higher energy costs during the winter, but also during the hot summer months when you’re trying to keep your home cool. For this reason, how your attic is constructed  and insulated is the most important part of saving huge amounts of money on energy bills year round.

As warm air pushes up to the top of your home it allows colder air to be pulled in from below from your basement, leaky windows, or just poorly insulated walls. As the warm air leaves it heats and melts snow on your roof, creating icicles and ice dams in the eaves. Since there’s very little heat along the eaves of your roof, the melted snow refreezes. Icicles and ice dams are the most obvious sign that you’re losing heat out of your attic and that better insulation could keep you more comfortable AND save you energy dollars. These are what are typically called, “shell improvements” in the energy business, and represent the easiest way Vermonters can make a significant impact on their home energy efficiency.

The first and easiest step is to figure out exactly just how much heat you’re losing through an energy audit for your home. We have an established step-by-step system beginning with some simple math and ending with a comprehensive plan that allows you to decide how best to proceed. Our Energy Audit will tell you exactly how efficiently your home is, where improvements should be made, and recommend some simple steps you can reduce your energy use and save money on your fuel bills. Some of these improvements you may want to make right away, while others would be better to hold off for the future. We also will help you choose the right contractor to make energy upgrades to your home.

Whatever you choose to do, with each season that goes by know that the earlier you make an investment in your home’s efficiency the more money you’ll save. As a first step, we can help you decide whether an Energy Audit makes sense for your home, with only TWO pieces of information from you:

  • Total heated area of your home (square feet)
  • The amount of heating fuel you use each year (oil, kerosene, pellets, etc.)

With this information we can quickly figure out whether an energy audit makes sense for your home. Give us a call! (802) 860-4090.

Here’s a great (short) video of what attic heat loss and necessary improvements looks like:

How Energy Efficient is Vermont?

Monday, November 11th, 2013

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) is a quiet policy heavyweight on all things energy efficiency. Not only do they inform policymakers around the country about the latest in efficiency measures and technology, but they also regularly review and rank state efficiency programs in their State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. The scorecard serves as one of the more important benchmarks for state efforts on energy efficient policies and programs. This is important as more and more states figure out how they can save millions of dollars tomorrow by investing in efficiency programs and technology today.

This year,Vermont was ranked at #7 in the country when it comes to energy efficiency. Some might ask, “why so low?” The main reason is related to transportation, which of course is related to the fact Vermont, a rural state, doesn’t have much capacity for public transportation. Yet, while we Vermonters didn’t score high on transportation efficiency, we ranked in the top five in utility efficiency thanks mainly to the outstanding work of Efficiency Vermont. You can checkout the one-page summary of Vermont efficiency programs here.

We at the Energy Co-op have always made energy efficiency a priority. Since the co-op model is focused on delivering the best possible service and support to our members and customers, instead of worrying about the bottom line, we can spend more time working on our energy efficiency goals. Lucky for us, Vermonters have a long history of respect for the co-op model – and for using resources wisely. Click here for stories about Co-op members who have made efficiency improvements to their homes.

The Energy Co-op is not only helping homeowners button-up their homes, service their heating equipment and get low prices on heating oil, we’re also introducing new and efficient ways to heat and cool your home. Pellet stoves, heat pumps and solar hot water heaters are three examples of these new technologies.

We hope next year, when the ACEEE scorecard comes out,Vermont ranks a bit higher, maybe because of the some of the work we’re committed to doing here in the Green Mountain State.

Heating and Fuel Assistance for Energy Co-op of Vermont Members

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Vermont’s famous January thaw is done. The February freeze appears to have set in … perhaps a bit early! The last week has seen the lowest temperatures of the heating season. And that means heating bills are on the rise. We don’t like to see anyone trying to get through the winter without staying warm enough. So every year, the Energy Co-op works with several state agencies, as well as other organizations to help more than 170 Co-op members who may be challenged, financially or otherwise, to stay warm all winter long.

Every heating season we deliver more than 90,000 gallons of  kerosene and heating oil to the Energy Co-op’s members, in large part, with funds provided by Seasonal Fuel AssistanceCrisis Fuel AssistanceGlobal PartnersCitizens Energy and the Co-op Oil Bank.  For every $12 Co-op membership, we put $2 into the Co-op Oil Bank to help pay for fuel oil deliveries and heating services for Co-op members having trouble paying their bills.

Of course, if your heating equipment isn’t working, then fuel assistance won’t do much! Furnaces and boilers need regular maintenance and servicing to operate efficiently. If you’re having trouble paying for maintenance or a repair on your furnace or boiler, help is available from Crisis Fuel Assistance, the Weatherization Program and Efficiency Vermont.

And even if fuel is in the tank and the heating system is working properly, many Vermont homes are leaky and poorly insulated.  This means money is literally going out the chimney! Fortunately, Vermont’s Weatherization Program helps low-income Vermonters by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Weatherization typically produces energy savings of at least 30%. According to a recent report by Vermont’s Thermal Efficiency Task Force (TETF), a typical Vermont household could save $1,000 a year with the completion of proper weatherization techniques, such as adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and replacing or repairing heating systems.

The Energy Co-op of Vermont is also proud to offer Free Home Energy Check Ups for our members. This is a great, simple way to see how efficient your home is. If you or someone you know needs financial help with a fuel delivery, repair or maintenance issue, or weatherization, please call the Energy Co-op at (802) 860-4090 or visit any of the resource links above.

Member: Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Renewable Energy Vermont, Local First Vermont

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