Starting Energy-Upgrade Work-Parties
In 2008, a handful of local people, terrified by climate change, organized an Energy-Upgrade Work-Party. We wanted to teach volunteers hands-on skills to help them save energy in their homes and lower emissions. If the federal government wouldn’t take action, we could still teach people what to do in their own homes.
Though we only told a few people about the event, and it poured rain that day, 40 soaking volunteers arrived with their tools, excited to work. After that, we organized an Energy-Upgrade Work-Party every month. Soon we won an initial grant, and HEET was launched.
Forming HEET Sister Groups
For the first few years, we helped sister HEET groups start up in other communities. Over 30 teams formed around Greater Boston, from Quincy to Arlington, Dorchester to Worcester. We helped by performing energy assessments, providing tools and team leaders, and organizing work parties. Despite best efforts, most disbanded after a few years due to lack of funding.
Working with Non-profits
To keep energy upgrades going, we partnered with organizations and began hosting work parties in the buildings of non-profits, such as food pantries and community centers. Many organizations, through lack of funds and expertise, inhabit drafty, inefficient buildings. Our work lowered their energy bills so they could deliver more critical services to their communities. We also built hands-on skills in diverse communities that people could use to upgrade their own homes.
Teaching for Green Jobs
Jason Taylor, a HEET board member and team leader, has taught green jobs at many of the community colleges and training programs in the Greater Boston area, as well as written curricula at the national level. He has personally trained over 150 people who now have jobs in the field. He encourages them to come to HEET energy-upgrade work-parties to gain experience working in real buildings rather than just in “labs” at the community colleges. It’s one thing to close up the holes around a fake chimney in a well-lit lab. It’s a very different job to accomplish the same task jammed in a dark corner under an attic ceiling, while balancing on joists, wearing a respirator and protective equipment.
Helping Residents Save Money and Energy
In 2011, HEET was selected as an NSTAR Community Outreach Pilot Partner. We helped sign up residents in Cambridge for Mass Save home energy assessments. These free assessments install energy-saving devices and allow residents to access large rebates for any further work they might need such as adding insulation. In less than a year, we signed up 394 homes for assessments.
Bringing HEET to Houses of Worship
In partnership with Mass Interfaith Power & Light and with funding from the Barr Foundation, HEET started the CARES program. Specializing in houses of worship such as churches and temples, HEET organizes work-parties and guides congregations toward the further work their buildings desperately need.
In these times of great social and economic need, houses of worship are increasingly open seven days a week for events such as AA classes, food pantries, and homeless shelters. This use radically increases energy bills for buildings that were intended for limited use. Many lack insulation, efficient heating systems, or even simple maintenance. Because many houses of worship don’t have the funding to get energy efficiency, HEET donates $50 to the house of worship for every home energy assessment its members accept. In this way, HEET helps the house of worship raise the funding it needs to lower its energy bills by socially marketing energy assessments to its congregation. We double the carbon savings and help congregations steward the planet by upgrading their homes as well as their houses of worship.
Using Thermal Images to Spur Upgrades
By partnering with Sagewell—a company that takes thermal images of homes Google-street-view-style—HEET obtained thermal images of every building in Cambridge. Sagewell kindly analyzed the thermal images of every 1-to-4 unit owner-occupied building to find the very worst “energy hog” apartment buildings. HEET sent out personal letters to each building’s owners including the thermal image and explaining the rebates available to upgrade their building.
Leading Cambridge and Somerville Solar Challenges
In 2013, supported by the City of Cambridge, HEET organized the Cambridge Solar Challenge, a program to help homes get solar electric installed. HEET pre-negotiated a 20% discounted price (per watt installed) for the solar installation, then sent a letter through the Mayor to every home with good solar exposure and followed up with a canvass. While the average number of residential solar installations in Cambridge each summer is five, our Solar Challenge achieved more than 50 solar installations. HEET ran the same program in Somerville and hit 20 solar installations.
Saving Energy and Money in New England: The Honest Book
HEET has learned which skills work best to save energy and money as well as the most effective way to teach these skills. So we wrote the Honest Book of Home Energy Savings, an e-book available on the iPad, Kindle, and as a PDF.
Most do-it-yourself books about saving energy are written for the entire country. They pretend that installing an efficient heating system is just as important in Florida as it is in Massachusetts. The Honest Book can be more accurate because it’s specific to New England. It tells you the most effective energy-saving tasks for our weather, energy use, and buildings.