Tompkins Weekly 3-14-16
By Guillermo Metz
Spring may be taking its first tentative footsteps of 2016, but it’s never too late to think about making your home more energy efficient and cutting down on heating costs. And now a new program from Cooperative Extension and Get Your GreenBack can help you heat with renewable energy while making your home more comfortable—in both winter and summer.
Green & Cozy brings together energy contractors and pellet stove retailers, along with a series of presentations around the county on the benefits of combining energy upgrades with conversion to a pellet stove. It’s a winning combination.
For the past few years, CCETC has run a program called Warm Up Tompkins, which asks homeowners who underwent energy upgrades on their homes and converted to heating with a pellet stove to provide us with energy data before and after they made that conversion. Every participant has either broken even or saved money right off the bat, even after their monthly loan payments. But more than that, they have all been surprised by how much these upgrades have improved their quality of life.
According to Lisa Ferguson, who upgraded her circa 1860s farmhouse, “I can’t say enough how much more pleasant it is to live through a winter in Ithaca when your house is warm.”
Another participant, Jimmy Cariss, said, “I moved here from a hot climate and I’ve been freezing to death since the day I moved. I’m comfortable for the first time.”
The process starts with a comprehensive whole-house energy audit, or assessment, which is currently free for most residents of NY State (if you make less than 200% of the median area income, which for Tompkins County residents means a family making less than $157,600). Conducted by an accredited contractor, this is like a comprehensive physical exam for your house. The contractor will assess your lighting and appliances, make sure your heating equipment is operating safely, and locate areas where your home may be lacking sufficient insulation, is allowing outside air to leak in, or may have water damage you can’t yet see.
You may think you know what’s going on with your house, but even if you built every inch of it yourself, there’s virtually no way to know what’s going on behind the walls, where insulation could have settled or been moved around over the years by mice. Energy contractors will use specialized equipment, like a blower door and infrared camera, to locate all of these problem areas.
They will then produce a report detailing their findings, along with recommendations for how to best address the issues. It’s then up to you to decide what, if any, of it you’d like to do. Some of it you may be able to do yourself; most of it you’ll want to hand over to professionals.
Your newly insulated, energy-efficient home will then be so much easier to heat (and keep cool in the summer). In fact, your existing heating system will likely be grossly oversized for your new heating loads. Which is where pellet stoves and other point-source heaters come in. Traditionally just a space heater, a pellet stove can heat almost any home on all but the coldest few days of winter if the home is sufficiently insulated and air-sealed—saving you significant amounts of fuel and money.
And there are now great state incentives to make the switch to a pellet stove. Renewable Heat New York incentives range from $1500 to $2500 depending on income qualifications and whether you have an old wood stove to trade in. There are also very significant incentives for trading out a wood boiler for either a pellet boiler or a newer “advanced” wood boiler—these are very efficient, clean-burning appliances that can effectively heat a whole house or even a large commercial space. And with bulk wood pellet delivery that’s now developing in our area, these units can be fed automatically from a large container that is automatically refilled on a schedule like oil or propane.
Modern pellet stoves are not your grandparents’ wood heaters—they are highly controlled appliances that deliver even heat at efficiencies of up to 90% and higher, with minimal harmful emissions.
Keep in mind that in order to operate properly, pellet stoves do require more regular maintenance than wood stoves. It isn’t much—a quick daily cleaning and weekly vacuuming-out will keep your pellet stove humming along nicely. On the plus side, they can be thermostatically controlled, left to run safely while you’re at work, and burn something that doesn’t require you to spend hours splitting, stacking, and moving it around. And pellet boilers are even more advanced: they can be filled automatically and monitored and controlled remotely so that your house or business is kept warm even while you’re enjoying the Florida sun for two weeks in the middle of winter.
Wood pellets not only make use of a renewable energy source, but one that is mostly made up of waste material: they’re about 85% lumber yard waste, sawdust mostly. In addition, there are ample supplies in our region of wood pellets that come from our region—local pellet mills that source their materials from local mills and local forests. Which supports the forest-based economy and cuts down on road miles the material has to travel. And while historically our forests have not always been well managed, increasingly, good forest management has led to improved forests, including increased biological diversity, control of invasives, and increased productivity.
So, what can Green & Cozy do for you? Come to one of our informational sessions to learn how the combination of making your home more energy efficient and converting to heating with wood pellets can save you energy and money, and help you heat without using fossil fuels. (See below for dates). These are informational sessions where you can have all your questions answered. And then, on Saturday, May 7, you can meet local contractors and see some of the equipment they use to make your home more energy efficient, as well as some of the best modern pellet stoves available. Finally, we are scheduling some home visits for you to learn from people who have upgraded their homes and converted to heating with pellets.
For updates and more information, go to www.getyourgreenbacktompkins.org/green-cozy or contact Guillermo Metz at 272-2292 or gm**@co*****.edu, or Dave Janeczek (dm***@co*****.edu) or Catherine Hwang (sh***@co*****.edu).
GREEN & COZY PRESENTATIONS (all 6-8pm; dates and times subject to change):
3/30 Ulysses Town Hall
4/5 Lansing Town Hall
4/12 Dryden Fire Hall
4/18 Newfield Fire Hall
4/26 Brooktondale Community Center
Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County
Sat. May 7, 10am–3pm
Guillermo Metz is an Energy Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County