READING – With winter snow right around the corner, homeowners want to save some coin on energy costs and the Reading Municipal Light Department is helping residents do just that with a new series of presentations.
Last week, the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) hosted a presentation from Next Step Living owner/project manager Bob Hastings who was joined by a bevy of experts including Blair Kershaw, Community Programs Manager, and Eric Graham, Director of Energy Funding. Jared Carpenter, Energy Efficiency Engineer and Reading Town Planner Jessie Wilson also helped to facilitate the presentation.
Hastings’ organization works to save money, energy, and be able to move comfortably in their homes. The goal of the workshop was to help people understand where their heating dollars are going; to provide information, choices and guidance; and, to share why it is in all of our best interests to reduce our fuel consumption, green house gas emissions and save money.
In New England electricity rates are tied to gas rates because most of the region’s electricity is generated with gas. Electricity can also be generated from solar, coal, biomass, wind, nuclear, oil and hydro power. According to Hastings, 57% of electricity is generated by natural gas and 30% is generated by nuclear. In Massachusetts home heating sources are 44% gas, 34% oil and 12% electricity.
Bob explained what is referred to as the “stack effect” where warm air rises and escapes out of the top of the house, creating suction that pulls in outside air at the bottom of the house.
He also explained, “duct leakage” which occurs as closed doors that prevent air from getting back to a return causes positive pressures in those rooms; meanwhile starving the return for air. This causes negative pressure in the zone where the return is located.
According to statistics, air leakage in homes occurs as follows: 31 percent - floors and walls; 15 percent - ducts; 14 percent- fireplaces; 13 percent - plumbing penetration; 11 percent doors; 10 percent windows; 4 percent fans and vents and 2 percent electric outlets.
Jared stated, “New windows do not really add anything. If you caulk around the windows it would do you much better that replacing windows.”
Hastings moved onto heating fuels stating that, “The trouble with oil is that it leaves a larger carbon footprint and dirty byproducts.” He provided a breakdown of the upgrade options for oil customers. He also reported that oil has higher maintenance costs to keep efficiency at moderate levels; there is heat loss during the combustion/distribution process; there are dangerously high combustion temperatures and volatile supply and prices. He added, “At current consumption rates experts estimate that the world’s oil supply will be depleted by 2039.”
In response to a question raised about the return on investment in converting from oil to gas, Hastings responded, “The number of years it takes to repay the cost to change from oil to gas has a lot to do with how much you are spending on heat now. You also need to look at the longevity of the system.”
Graham added, “Home values may be impacted by having to replace or convert an oil system.”
Hastings described a heat pump as a device that transfers heat from a colder area to a hotter area by using mechanical energy. It uses a refrigeration cycle, but can reverse the process for heating. They are air source heat pumps and offer a simple solution to increase efficiency and comfort. They also allow for individual room control, cutting down on wasted energy.
He said, “For anyone who has oil; you should seriously consider this. If you have natural gas you may want to consider just a single unit, it can be used as a supplement.” He also said that a new gas system could run between $6,000 to $9,000 and if you want high efficiency it could run between $9,000 and $15,000 and last about 10 years.
Jared added, “If you are a natural gas customer- sign up for an audit right away. For oil, RMLD has better programs than anyone in the state. There are options to help financially. An audit can show where your home is leaking.”
The application to the project was filed jointly with the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) communities of Lynnfield, North Reading and Wilmington. The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC) will be working with each of the communities to develop a regional long-range energy efficiency and renewable energy plan.