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Western Mass Green Consortium

The room is abuzz with chatter consisting of personal anecdotes and business opportunities. Local residents sip their locally brewed beer while brainstorming ways to protect the environment. This is not your average mixer, this is something bigger.

The Western Mass Green Consortium (WMGC) is a groundbreaking collaborative consisting of local small businesses, educators, organizations and individuals coalesced around a common mission: to “promote sustainable business practices, nurture the environmentally committed business sector, advocate for environmentally progressive policies, and improve the environmental profile of economic activity in Western Massachusetts.”

The Consortium meets the second Wednesday of every month in the Northampton Brewery’s Sunroom. The Brewery also plays host to “Green Drinks,” a gathering after the WMGC meetings often used to unwind and talk about sustainability in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.

WMGC rolled out its first supported project – “Project Retrofit” – at a Wednesday, August 12 meeting. The project is focused on making deep energy retrofits (DER’s) affordable for the average home owner.

A DER is a renovation or remodeling strategy that substantially improves the comfort, safety, air quality, and durability of a home, or building, that results in a 50 to 90 percent reduction in energy usage. A DER goes beyond weatherization, taking internal energy usage into account as well.

Sean Jeffords from Beyond Green Construction, an Easthampton based business specializing in DERs, and consultant, Doug Snyder, M.S., of DS Greenbuild, led the Project Retrofit presentation. Both are members of the WMGC.

“A DER is more invasive than weatherization,” said Jeffords. “Building the envelope is the most important part, guaranteeing there are no weak spots.” The building’s envelope consists of its roof, walls and foundation – all the parts that protect the inside from the outside elements.

According to Jeffords and Snyder, now is the time to get DER’s into common practice. Snyder cited both the 350 movement – the push, endorsed by scientists, to reduce atmospheric CO2 to below 350 ppm, the threshold deemed to be safe for humanity – and the 2030 Challenge as reasons for the needed DER’s.

Architecture 2030 has issued a challenge to the global building community to renovate existing structures to thresholds spanning between 60 to 90 percent in energy reductions between 2010 and 2025, with a goal of complete carbon-neutrality by 2030.

According to Snyder, Project Retrofit is not only an investment into the future of the planet, but also a reinvestment into the lagging economy. There needs to be a trained workforce to undergo the DER’s, and if more building owners are able to afford them, there will be more jobs. The final, renovated, buildings will be more energy efficient and require less dependency on foreign oil, also resulting in decreased energy costs. The retrofits will also increase the durability and longevity of a building, and energy efficiency upgrades will appreciate over time.

The energy savings come at a rather significant up-front cost. The average inclusive DER, resulting in a 70 to 90 percent reduction in energy usage, can cost near $100,000, said Jeffords. Currently, there is no mortgage structure in place to cover the cost. Another option is a Phased DER, step one resulting in a 30 to 40 percent reduction, costing around $35,000, leaving room for future renovations to meet the target 70 to 90 percent decrease. Existing government programs to assist with energy-saving renovation projects are minimal, not widely available, and would cover costs between $2,000 and $30,000, depending on the program. The National Grid DER Pilot Plan is offering up to $35,000 in funding to 10 one to three family homes, provided the home owner can first finance a minimum of $50,000 for the non-energy, non-reimbursable part of the project.

To cover the up-front cost, Jeffords unveiled the concept of a 50-year mortgage that would be attached to the deed of the house, not the home owner. This would be in addition to any existing mortgage the home owner had and would change hands if the home were to be sold. According to Jeffords, the $100,000 mortgage would result in the home being an average of 80 percent more efficient to heat and cool, more comfortable to its inhabitants and more durable, prolonging the life of the home. Utility bills would also be reduced by a minimum of $150 per month, offsetting part of the cost for the mortgage. Asked about the idea of attaching the mortgage to the deed, Jeffords said, “This is cutting edge. We need to have these conversations in order to inspire change. It is about challenging ourselves to be more creative.”

To experience a building in the process of a DER, the WMGC would like to invite all those interested to its anniversary celebration and membership drive, on Saturday, Sept. 19 starting at 1 p.m. The party will take place at a 100-year-old two family dwelling that is undergoing a Deep Energy Retrofit 189 Pleasant Street, Easthampton, Mass. For more information or to join the WMGC mailing list, contact Sean Jeffords sean@beyondgreen.biz.

This article is published at EarthThrives.com, with other local news of the sustainable and green movements in the Pioneer Valley.

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