Preserving the Past, Preparing for the Future: A Home Energy Success Story
Ever since Eric and Barbara Chasalow purchased one of the oldest homes in Newton, they’ve been striving to serve as good stewards of their historic home. They’ve also pushed the envelope on energy performance, proving that historic preservation and resource efficiency can and should go hand in hand.
Byggmeister’s Performance Manager, Rachel White, sat down with Eric and Barbara to find out what motivated them and what it’s like to live in an efficient and historic home.
Rachel: You recently undertook a slew of energy upgrades to your home. But this isn’t the first time you’ve made major investments in your house, right?
Eric: We’ve been addressing this house since we bought it. First we had to make it livable because it was built in 1740 and some basic things hadn’t been attended to. There was no wall insulation, so we blew in cellulose.
Barbara: After we’d been in the house a few years we wanted to do an addition but once we started looking into the structural stuff, we knew the addition wasn’t in the cards. We had to pour a new foundation in the back. We needed new clapboards and a new roof. Bringing the house up to date and ensuring its structural integrity were major undertakings. After that we sort of had to recover.
Rachel: So what motivated you to invest in energy efficiency?
Eric: We started thinking about how to make the house more comfortable and efficient; and we wanted to control our costs. We decided to replace our heating system and to insulate our basement.
Rachel: I understand radon was also a factor.
Eric: We had lived in the house a long time and had never checked the radon. I’m not sure what finally prompted me to check but we had a serious problem. The level on the main floor was five times higher than what you want. I had heard about foam insulation being used as a radon control measure. That’s when I called Paul.
Rachel: And did the foam insulation fix the radon problem?
Eric: It cut the radon levels in half but they were still too high. So we installed mitigation, which finally brought the levels into the living spaces into the safe zone.
Rachel: How else has the insulation affected your experience in the house?
Barbara: The basement is much more useful now; it’s a great storage space. We couldn’t put stuff down there before because it was damp and moldy. I also think the insulation has made the first floor more comfortable. Before the foam went in the floors always felt cold, and now they don’t. The heating system has made a big difference too. The temperature just seems more stable.
Eric: What matters most to me is that we can use the basement now. I’m even tempted to store guitars down there; but believe it or not I’m worried it’s too dry. The relative humidity is below 20% in the winter. Paul jokes that our basement is the driest basement in Newton.
Rachel: But you didn’t stop with the heating system and basement insulation. What did you do next?
Eric: About a year after Byggmeister insulated the basement we installed an 8 kilowatt solar electric system. I felt like we were at a sweet point in terms of incentives and costs; payback wasn’t the primary motivation but when I looked at the numbers it was a no brainer.
Rachel: Then you thought, let’s throw in an electric car too?
Barbara: Well, the timing just worked out. I needed a new car. I don’t drive much, so wanted something small and super efficient.
Eric: We liked the idea of electric for environmental reasons but we weren’t sure it was ready for primetime. We changed our minds after we visited my brother and had a chance to ride in his Nissan Leaf. It was so roomy and has great acceleration.
Barbara: Eric’s brother has three kids, but they love the Leaf so much that they all cram into it. They actually prefer it to their SUV. When we first got the Leaf—this was before we got the charging station—I was floored that we could just plug it into the wall. It’s really fun to drive and there are no emissions. The coolest thing is that we’re generating our own fuel for this car and are starting to see the benefit in terms of the bottom line.
Eric: Even with the short commute we have, about 3 miles, we’re saving about $40 on gas a month. I never want to be without an electric car again. We almost never use the other car now except for long trips.
Barbara: So we’ve got this pv system and electric car and now charging stations are starting to crop up. Life is good. I feel like things are starting to change and that people are realizing that the era of fossil fuels is over.
Rachel: So is this it? Are you guys finally done?
Barbara: No. My next thing is gray water—or at least rain water harvesting