Home MVP: A New Approach to Energy Efficiency
by Rachel White
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has launched a new energy efficiency pilot program for single family and small multi-family homes. The Home Market Value Performance Pilot Program (MVP) complements and expands upon the Mass Save program. Byggmeister is honored to have been chosen for the pilot phase of the program: we are one of only eight contractors selected, and the only full-line design-build remodeling contractor (the others are all weatherization/insulation contractors).
There are two key differences between Mass Save and MVP: whereas Mass Save provides fixed incentives for prescriptive efficiency measures and materials, MVP provides tiered incentives for improvements in performance. The MVP program is agnostic about measures and materials, awarding incentives based on energy savings.
Initially, the MVP incentive is based on modeled, or predicted, savings. However, the program also requires a year of pre and post project energy use data. If the measured savings beat the predicted savings, the program will provide an additional incentive to contractors, which we intend to pass on to our clients.
In our view, this approach has several advantages over the Mass Save approach. First and foremost the program ties incentive money to savings. As long as the proposed work will save energy (at least 5% annually), it will be incentivized. Conversely, work that won’t save energy is not incentivized. So efficiency funds (which we all contribute to through the efficiency surcharge on our utility bills) are put to work where they will have the biggest impact.
Even more important is the program’s energy tracking requirement. The significance of this can’t be overstated. It has been difficult if not impossible to get actual savings information about projects funded through Mass Save. Given that the goal of efficiency programs is to reduce energy consumption, it’s absolutely critical that we measure actual impact both on individual projects and in the aggregate.
We know that measuring impact isn’t easy. Several years into our in-house energy tracking initiative, we continue to bump up against a range of hurdles including limited access to data, the significant time investment required to produce statistically sound analyses, and the relatively low priority many homeowners place on quantifying impact, even those who consider themselves energy activists. No single organization can surmount these hurdles on their own. But if the state, the utilities and the industry commit to energy tracking, we all have a much better chance of getting the data we need to know whether and to what extent we are making progress towards our energy goals.
Equally appealing is the MVP program’s flexibility, which makes it possible to address complex performance problems that Mass Save isn’t set up to deal with. While Mass Save has accelerated the installation of relatively straightforward and low-cost energy upgrades, its limited and prescriptive nature leaves many savings opportunities on the table.
A case in point is a project we are currently planning for a two-family house that uses almost 2/3 more energy on a square foot basis than the average Massachusetts home. Our blower door test and infrared imaging revealed high air leakage to be a root cause of the excessive energy consumption. Poorly installed fiberglass insulation in the roof coupled with uninsulated basement walls, roughly 1/3 of which are above ground, are the prime culprits.
For the roof we would strip off the interior ceiling finishes, remove the fiberglass, and then install closed cell spray foam, which serves as an air barrier and a vapor barrier, and has a high R-value per inch, enabling us to get more than the code required level of insulation into the rafter bays.
From the perspectives of building science, as well as constructability and cost, closed cell spray foam is the best material for this roof. There are other options, but they are harder to install, are more costly, and would deliver a lower overall R-value (unless we were to build the insulation layer down, reducing ceiling height, which isn’t an option here).
In the basement we would clean the rubble walls, install closed cell SPF directly against the walls as well as the band joist (where the house meets the foundation), followed by thermal barrier paint or dry wall for fire protection. Similarly to the attic, there’s simply no other insulation material that would air seal, insulate and control moisture as effectively and with as little risk as closed cell SPF.
Mass Save would not incentivize this project. It’s too complex and it relies on spray foam, an excluded material. (The rationale for this exclusion, as I understand it, is that the program is able to meet its overall energy reduction targets without spray foam, which is a fairly costly insulation material.) But thanks to the MVP program, this project should be eligible for a substantial incentive, without which the project might not otherwise make financial sense for the owner.
While Mass Save has done a great deal to advance energy efficiency, there is much more that could be done—and now some of it will get done—through the MVP program. Ultimately, this is what most excites us about the MVP: if it’s successful, many more homes will get fixed than otherwise would have. And we’ll have the data to show just how much energy has been saved as a result—plus maybe a little cash bonus for our clients.