Green Living Energy Savings

5 Steps to Making Your Historic Home More Energy Efficient

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses. Making them energy efficient and reducing energy costs will make them all the more enjoyable.
Originally built in 1880's this home has undergone a number of renovations. Many windows still need replacing as well as upgrading the insulation.

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.

There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.

Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.

Historic Homes are Different

There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.

Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.

Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.
Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.

The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.

Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency

It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:

  1. Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
  2. Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
  3. Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
  4. Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
  5. Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.

These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.

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Green Living Energy Savings

Beat The Heat-With Efficient A.C. use.

Did you know 2/3 of all U.S. Households have air conditioners? Here are some tips to keep cool and keep costs down

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Wicked Green -Greenhouse: Spotlight on Cozy Acres

Located in Maine this greenhouse is heated year round-has zero emissions and utilizes solar and geothermal energy.
”Our philosophy is once we get the photovoltaic system paid for, we see everything ahead of us being a greenhouse without electricity cost.”

While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, it’s quite likely that Maine’s very own Cozy Acres Greenhouse is the first year-round heated greenhouse with zero emissions. Owner Jeff Marstaller is thrilled about the attention that his fully “green” greenhouse is getting from local media and industry publications like Greenhouse Grower.

Marstaller and his wife Marianne own 8 wholesale greenhouses in the area, but the zero emissions one built in 2013 in North Yarmouth has been quite the undertaking. “I don’t consider myself an activist, but we wanted to do our part to reduce the need of burning of fossil fuels, and reduce the emissions,” he says.

After hearing about the Maine Farms for the Future program, the Marstallers started dabbling with the idea of building a greenhouse from scratch that utilized solar and geothermal energy. “In the first phase, you are given $6,000 to investigate how you want to improve your biz. If the committee thinks it’s a viable project, you get additional funding in the second phase,” explains Marstaller.

Owners, Jeff Marstaller and Marianne Marstaller of Cozy Acres Greenhouse
Owners, Jeff Marstaller and Marianne Marstaller of Cozy Acres Greenhouse

With that state program in his corner, Marstaller was determined to try to make his idea come to life, but he knew he’d need some more financial assistance. “We could have put up 7 conventional greenhouses for the price of this one,” he explains. “A greenhouse uses so much energy compared to a home that has 6 inches of insulation.”

Lucky for him, he was approved for a grant from the Rural Energy for America Program, which funds 25 percent of the energy portion of improving a business. “Once we had that approved, the whole thing kind of gelled,” says Marstaller.

Today, the facility is powered by the sun, via photovoltaic panels, and the earth supplies the heat, through a horizontal, closed-loop geothermal system. Although it’s complicated to figure out how long it will take to earn back their investment, Marstaller expects that day to come within 5 to 8 years. ”Our philosophy is once we get the photovoltaic system paid for, we see everything ahead of us being a greenhouse without electricity cost.”



As for future plans, Marstaller says that his progressive greenhouse was built with expansion in mind, even though he doesn’t anticipate expanding it himself. “I’m 60 years old. We’re going to use it to head into our slow down years. If our property looks like it’s on the forefront, someday we’ll be selling and maybe this will draw a potential buyer,” he says.

Beyond his future retirement plans, it’s Marstaller’s hope that as news spreads about his greenhouse, it might inspire others to follow his lead. He imagines that if his wholesale house could create a buzz, a retail greenhouse in which everything is grown without emissions would be able to generate even more public support. “I think everyone driving a Prius would drive the extra miles to such a greenhouse. I’m surprised more retail places don’t do more green, and then use it in their marketing,” he says.

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Community Energy Savings

Energy In The News: May Recap

Each month we'll bring you a round-up of energy related stories making headlines in New England.

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Provider Power Targets Businesses With New Website is designed to help businesses across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts navigate the complex world of electricity choice.
Provider Power helps businesses, schools, municipalities, and organizations of all shapes and sizes by giving them competitive electricity rate plans to help them manage their bottom line.

Provider Power, the Maine based parent company of Electricity Maine, ENH Power and Provider Power Mass, is pleased to announce the launch of

The new site is designed to help businesses across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts navigate the sometimes complex world of electricity choice.

Candace Sanborn, Provider Power’s Vice President of Marketing, says it was important for Provider Power to keep in mind the unique energy needs of small to medium businesses.  “As a mid-size New England company ourselves, we have an appreciation for the challenges businesses face with higher electricity costs than other regions of the country due to our weather patterns and lack of natural gas pipeline infrastructure. We share their concerns and are doing what we can in this space to help educate businesses about energy options and resources, as well as keeping them informed about the discussions and decisions that impact our region’s energy costs.”

The new Provider Power business website is designed to make shopping for electricity easier through a short intake process. “By asking a few simple questions up front we are able to move the process along quickly” says Sanborn.  After assessing energy use, depending on utility, Provider Power typically provides a quote within 3-5 business days.

With more than 200,000 residential and business customers across the Provider Power family of companies, has the systems, technology, experience and partners to accommodate businesses of any size.

To learn more about Provider Power’s business capabilities, visit



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Green Living Energy Savings

How Smart Appliances Can Cut Your Electricity Bills

Smart appliances ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference.
Cutting energy costs can be as easy as getting smart(er) about household appliances.

Changing your thermostat a degree here or there can make a big impact on your power bill.  While that’s a great idea-it doesn’t address the notion that many of your appliances might be using too much energy.

Many people are switching to smart appliances that ensure that your home is using energy as efficiently as possible. The best part is they do the thinking and make adjustments in energy use on your behalf, so you’ll hardly notice a difference—except when it comes to your lower bill, that is.

While installing smart appliances and other technology in your home is an up-front investment, if you’re in the market for upgrades anyway, they are worth looking into for long-term savings. And besides, haven’t you always wanted to feel like one of the Jetsons? (Rosie the Robo-maid is on her way.)

Nest Thermostats

Remember that bit of advice about the savings you can get from turning down your heat one degree? The Nest Learning Thermostat actually figures out your family’s schedule so that it can program itself to warm up when you’re home, and cool down when the house is empty (and vice versa in the summer months). It can also be controlled from your mobile devices so you can make adjustments on the go, such as if you know you’ll be home later than usual. The company estimates that the average customer can save 20 percent on their heating and cooling bills.


Smart lighting


Hopefully by now you’ve already switched over to LED light bulbs, but here comes the next big innovation. Smart bulbs automatically adjust their brightness depending on how much natural light is coming into the room. Like the thermostats, you can also control smart lighting via an app, or you can set timers so lights shut off at a certain time. This is great for families who are sometimes forgetful about shutting their lights.

Smart power strips

You’ve probably heard that even appliances that are turned off can use up electricity in your home. But who has time to go around unplugging and plugging things in every day? Smart power strips can sense when appliances aren’t in use, and will cut off the power automatically. This is great for things like printers, televisions, and computers.



Smart grids in your area

For most of New England, the idea of smart grid technology is way off.  With the exception of “smart meters”  at homes and business in Central Maine Power territory (in Maine) and the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, very few New Englanders will have the opportunity to take advantage of time of use products.  This may include special price or conservation efforts during specific times of the day (or days of the week).

According to, more than 15 million smart meters have been installed with funding from the Recovery Act, which give home owners a home energy management system (EMS) to work with.

As you continue to be proactive about keeping your energy costs in check, look into embracing some of these smart elements into your home to help automate and optimize the way you use energy. It will not only take the burden of unplugging, switching off, and scaling back off of you, but it can save you money over time while reducing your carbon footprint.


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Green Living Energy Savings

What you should know about “cool roofs”

Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Even with the cold and snow in New England cool roofs are an option.
The north tilt of the roof allows for expansive glazing on the south facade to balance the glazing present in the north and west facades, which face a pond (photo:

France is leading the “cool roof” movement.  All new buildings in commercial zones across the country must comply with new environmental legislation-they must be covered in plants or solar panels.

Cool roofs are one of the leading green building technologies used today, and while it is not a new concept, cool roofs are working to solve a growing problem. Think about how you’d dress on a hot August day. Do you wear all black? Generally not. You wear light, airy, heat reflective colors like white or blue or yellow. So why do we choose to disregard what builders in hot climates have been doing for hundreds of years, and cover our roofs with dark, non-reflective, heat-absorbing materials?

In densely populated areas like cities and suburbs, these choices have real-time consequences. These cities have been dubbed “heat islands” because of the huge variance in temperature caused by the built environment.

Chris Briley, Principal at BRIBURN, a reputed New England architecture firm dedicated to sustainable design, explains, “In the south, the heat island effect is very real. The city can be 5-10 degrees hotter than the surrounding suburbs and that’s because of dark pavement, dark roofs and a lack of respiring vegetation.” Something as simple and inexpensive as choosing a light color roof paint instead of black shingle or tar can immediately normalize surrounding air temperatures and help bring down the “heat island” effect.

Are cool roofs worth considering up north?

While New England’s cooler climate might not make “heat islands” a top concern, a creative twist on cool roofs help to solve a different problem here. Water quality. Enter the beautiful and functional “vegetated roof.”

A vegetated roof remembers technology that people have been using for centuries. By covering the roofs of both homes and office buildings with plants, we can greatly improve storm water conditions. The roof can absorb and hold the water of a 1” rainstorm, and any water that then runs off the roof and into streams, lakes, ponds and eventually the ocean has been preconditioned with sulphurs and phosphates and already neutralized.

The vegetated roof
The vegetated roof, planted with hardy alpine seedums, is designed to absorb one inch of storm water, and regulate the house’s temperature during the summer months. (photo:

“Imagine districts like Portland, Maine,” Briley positions, “with a direct watershed to Casco Bay and a combined sewer system. Every large storm is bad for Casco Bay because of the overflow and unconditioned runoff from our urban and suburban districts. If every roof were a vegetated roof, this negative effect would be greatly reduced.”

Plus, vegetated roofs are cool roofs in the traditional sense that when temperatures are hot, they cool the structure down. Briley explains that because as the plants respire, their heat gain in the summer is ZERO. That can have a huge effect on the cooling load and energy use of an air-conditioned building, as well as increase the comfort of a non air-conditioned building or home. The expense of air conditioning doesn’t make it worth it to most New Englanders, but there are summer months when all of us would appreciate a cooler interior temperature. Vegetated roofs provide that.

“This may seem like a small thing, but you are covering your roof with a natural material that will sequester carbon and release oxygen. And of course, they look beautiful.” – Chris Briley, Principal, BRIBURN

For all of the reasons outlined here, TideSmart Global, a marketing firm based in Falmouth, Maine, is working with BRIBURN on the design and installation of 5,000 ft2 of vegetated roof at their logistics center. The hope is that such a high profile and large-scale cool roof will likely bring attention to the vegetated roof as a viable New England construction feature.

Is a cool or vegetated roof right for you?

There are many more benefits to installing a cool roof at your home or office. Decreased utility bills, increased occupant comfort, extended roof life and even utility rebates in some locations are helping homeowners decide to make the switch. Because of New England’s cooler climate, vegetated roofs are becoming more popular, but there are many factors to take into consideration before deciding on the best cool roof material for you.

What about the snow loads we see here in the New England?  A leaky roof is independent of whether it’s green roof or traditional. It has to do with the installation and design specification of the structure. All roofs must have a proper waterproofing membrane, green roofs included.

There is no evidence to suggest that green roofs are more susceptible to leaking. In fact, some studies suggest that the longer life cycle of a green roof is due to the protection of the waterproof membrane from ultraviolet sunlight. The plants and substrate act as a natural barrier to weathering.

The Cool Roof Rating Council offers a multitude of resources to help guide you through building material options, rebate opportunities, and even reputable contractors.

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New Hampshire electricity customers and once again the target of an electric utility payment scam. Customers are receiving calls from people claiming to represent utilities and demanding immediate payment. Under the guise of imminent disconnection, callers are demanding payment via money order, pre-paid credit cards or other means.

The latest report comes from the Monadnock region of New Hampshire where businesses appear to be targeted. Callers claim to be Eversource utility representatives demanding money for overdue bills. If money is not paid, the caller says power to the business will be shut off. According to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript newspaper, the NH PUC and Attorney General’s office have received nearly 80 calls and complaints in the past 3 weeks.  Libery, Unitil and New Hampshire Electric co-op customers are receiving similar calls.

Some things to remember:

  • Public Utility companies are required to give 14-day written notice about any shut offs, this notice includes information about actions customers can take to maintain service
  • If you get a call from someone claiming to represent a utility or supply company, it is best to get off the phone with that person and call the publicly listed phone number for the utility or supplier.
  • Competitive supply companies, like ENH Power do not have the ability to shot off your power. If you receive a call from someone claiming to from a supply company and they threaten to shut off your power, this too is a scam.

Suspicious calls should be reported to the Public Utilities Commission at 1-800-852-3793. Consumers can also call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-888-468-4454.



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