Mass. Senator Brownsberger Walks the Talk on Saving Energy

State Senator Will Brownsberger

It’s easy for leaders to speak in platitudes about “going green.” It’s a lot harder to take a look at one’s own home and undertake a major renovation to save energy. Massachusetts State Senator Will Brownsberger of Belmont truly walks the talk. Brownsberger lists Clean Energy as the first long-term goal on his website. And in 2008, the Senator began the massive undertaking of a deep energy retrofit of his Belmont home. “Deep energy retrofit” or “deep energy reduction” generally refers to actions that decrease energy consumption of a building by at least 50 percent. Brownsberger sought to qualify for the rigorous Thousand Homes Challenge (THC), a national program administered by Affordable Comfort, Inc. (ACI ), a national nonprofit focused on home performance and weatherization.  The THC requires that a qualifying home reduce its energy consumption by 70-90 percent. This aggressive target is achieved through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable resources, community-based solutions, and behavioral choices. The goal of the Challenge is to demonstrate that this level of residential retrofit — involving advanced residential building techniques and technologies — is possible, and to showcase early adopters. In order to complete this complex project, Brownsberger recruited the assistance of National Grid, whose Deep Energy Retrofit program provided grants that covered roughly one third of the cost of the energy components of the renovation. Before inception, the structure was classified as being in “poor” condition. The home, like many older New England homes, had an uninsulated attic, basement, and walls, outdated appliances, oil heat, drafty windows, etc. From this starting point, the home underwent an extensive retrofit, which involved focusing on the building enclosure, HVAC, renewables (installation of solar PV and a solar hot water heater), and a variety of other improvements and repairs. The project was completed in fall 2009 and Brownsberger’s home became the sixth THC-qualified home in the country, and the first in Massachusetts! The end results are impressive. Energy consumption will be reduced by an estimated 74 percent. Energy use, energy costs, and CO2 emissions per person were decreased to fractions of what’s typical for our region. The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score dropped from 197 to 32. HERS is a measure of home energy efficiency — the lower the score the better. A significant amount of upfront capital was required due to the significant amount of construction, labor, and technologically advanced materials required to complete the retrofit. The Brownsberger home project is pioneering and is truly at the vanguard of residential energy efficiency. Project costs for deep retrofits will fall over time, as knowledge and skills are disseminated, as related policies are strengthened, and as highly efficient building materials and appliances penetrate more into the mainstream. Stay tuned for Part 2 — after I chat with the Senator about his project and the state of energy efficiency in Massachusetts! The Brownsberger home in Belmont, Mass. Further References on the Brownsberger Project    

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