By Stacey Dresner
On Feb. 12, Rabbi Benjamin Weiner and Cantor Elise Barber welcomed two contractors from New York Green Homes to perform an energy audit of their 159-year old farmhouse in Deerfield.
As with many older homes, Weiner and Barber had their concerns about their home’s energy efficiency.
“There are some leaky windows, there’s kind of haphazard insulation,” Rabbi Weiner explained. “It’s not a new house so it’s not airtight, and the basement is very porous also.”
The couple was among the first members of the Pioneer Valley Jewish community to have their home’s energy footprint audited with the help of ener-G-save, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation.
Founded last year by Harold Grinspoon, ener-G-save’s actual purpose is to make Pioneer Valley homeowners aware that there are free energy audits as well as financial incentives already available to them.
“All customers of the primary utility companies in Massachusetts pay into a fund each and every month when they pay their electricity bills,” said Harold Grinspoon in a letter to Jewish communal leaders around the Pioneer Valley. “The money collected is returned to Massachusetts’ residents in the form of no-cost home audits and energy efficiency incentives. Far too many people do not know that they are eligible to receive these free audits as well as hundreds and even thousands of dollars – and not just once – to improve their homes and save on utility bills.”
According to the letter, “Some utilities are currently funding 75% of improvements cost without any cap to certain customers.”
When Weiner and Barber learned about the program, they were happy to participate.
“We are definitely very concerned as a family about environmental issues and issues of energy use and we have done a number of things to try to improve our footprint, including installing solar panels, using very efficient systems for heating both the house and hot water. And yet we still live in a very old drafty New England farmhouse. So this seemed like a natural next step,” Weiner said. “We were glad to hear about the Grinspoon program and helping people to take advantage of existing opportunities.”
The ener-G-save program is just another example of Harold Grinspoon’s mission of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.
“Mr. Grinspoon, in his mid-80s, wanted to do something about energy efficiency,” explained Susan Olshuff, the community liaison for ener-G-save. “He’s very concerned about climate change and wanted to apply his time and energy and funds to do his good for climate change, for energy efficiency specifically.”
ener-G-save is run by program manager Uli Nagel, who has served as a climate activist with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and the Massachusetts Climate Action Network. Olshuff is a professional non-profit fundraiser who has worked for environmental and social action groups and served in the Lenox community to bring “Green Community” status as well as a “solarize program” and a town-wide energy audit to the town.
“[Grinspoon] asked us to figure out what kind of project he could do that would make a difference,” Olshuff said.
After a project in which thermal images of homes in the Pioneer Valley were taken to see how much heat was coming off the buildings, some 25,000 homeowners were contacted about the program and its advantages in terms of the environment and cost savings.
“Now we are using more grassroots and municipal connections,” Plshuff said. “At this point, our goal is to get as many homeowners as possible in the Pioneer Valley to do energy audits. Basically, for years anyone who pays a utility bill has been paying into a fund – just a little bit on each bill – but this fund is geared to help with energy efficiency. So people have already paid for this so-called energy audit by contributing monthly into this fund.”
To participate, homeowners, synagogues, day schools and other Jewish organizations can contact ener-G-save, which will set them up with contractors who can come to their home and “do an energy audit, help them understand what their house needs to be more efficient and help them know what programs there are via the utility companies that will help them pay for it,” Olshuff said.
When a contractor comes to one’s home to do the audit, they also bring free LED light bulbs to replace any old candescent light bulbs; they will give homeowners a programmable thermostat that helps to control how a house is heated; and power strips that are more efficient than regular plug-in power strips.
Rabbi Weiner said that the audit of his 2,500 square-foot home took about 30 minutes.
“Two guys from the company came to our house and went from top to bottom looking at things using different types of equipment to measure heat loss. They used one app where they can actually show you through a kind of color spectrum how much heat was escaping from certain areas of the house,” Weiner said. “They analyzed what kind of systems we have – like what our heating system was already — and just based on their expertise began to develop a plan for how to render the house more energy efficient.”
The contractors then sat down with Weiner and Barber to discuss what they found. In the case of their farmhouse, there were some drafty areas that are need of insulation to keep the cold air out and the heat in. They also replaced about a half a dozen old incandescent light bulbs with LED lights for free.
The next step is for the contractors to come back and do the work.
“The great thing about it is there’s a lot of incentivizing for the work to be done,” Weiner said. “Part of the Grinspoon project is just to make people aware of how much money is available for home improvement of this type. There are some things that are entirely paid for through this program…What isn’t paid for straight out can be greatly subsidized – so the money is there and it sounds to me that we could do a great deal of good for a fairly small amount of our household budget…We are not an affluent household, but it certainly seemed reasonable…it didn’t seem out of our reach to get a significant piece of the work done.”
The work on their home, he said, will probably be done this spring. He also plans to let his congregants at the Jewish Community of Amherst know about the program.
“I hope to serve as an example, but I think I have a fairly conscious community already in terms of these issues,” he said.
For more information about ener-G-save, call (413) 279-9141
email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ener-G-save.com.
CAP: John Carrier, owner of New England Green Homes sits down with Cantor Elise Barber, Rabbi Benjamin Weiner and their son, Efraim, to show them his energy audit of their home.