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What’s an eHome?

Paul Kando

In Vermont, to help its customers save money and energy, Green Mountain Power (GMP) and partners developed a holistic approach to energy makeovers of existing homes. Details depend on the individual house and may include weatherization, heat pumps for heating, cooling, and water heating, solar panels, electric vehicles, and technology to track and control energy usage. A key feature of an eHome is that it is cash flow positive immediately. These makeovers are available to every GMP customer and eHomes are first in line for GMP’s newest offerings.

The Borkowskis eHome.
photo credit: Green Mountain Power

Vermonters can typically get a subsidized energy audit for as little as $100 to $150, financed as part of the eHome makeover package. GMP works with a qualified contractor to do a home energy audit to determine where improvements can be made. The audit report presented to the customer details prioritized recommendations, costs, available rebates, and estimated ongoing cost savings. To prevent contractor-provided energy audits to be used as tools to market weatherization work – a conflict of interest that can undermine the credibility of the audit – GMP works directly with individual customers to select the best improvements to weatherize their home. There is no sales pressure on the customer, who is free to decide to do nothing or select to implement only selected recommendations.

The prototype eHome is a century-old, 1,500 square-foot house in Rutland, home to Mark and Sara Borkowski and their two children. Mark drives a school bus. Sara is a special-education teacher. Their home makeover included weatherization, a heat pump hot water heater, heat pumps for heating and cooling, and LED lighting. (LED light bulbs save at least 75% of lighting energy, are more durable, last longer and offer comparable or better light quality that other types of lighting). Home automation controls thermostats, outlets, lights and appliances, tracking the home's energy use in real time. Instant access to energy data through web and mobile apps are also available, making possible changes on the fly.

The Borkowskis’ energy bills became smaller the very first month after the makeover, for which they pay through their electric bill. Before the makeover, October 2013 through January 2014, they used 3411 kWh of electricity plus 325 gallons of fuel oil. But from October 2014 to January 2015, they used only 2856 kWh of electricity and no oil at all.

The average Vermont homeowner can expect to spend about $6,500 for a complete eHome makeover (less for just the most cost effective improvements) and save $375 in annual heating costs. GMP makes weatherization possible even without upfront cash and there are rebates availabl e from Efficiency Vermont.

President Obama’s goal is a 28% carbon footprint reduction (from the 2005 level) for the United States’ by 2025. The Borkowskis reduced the carbon footprint of their house by 88% in a matter of days, and at no net cash outlay. Scores of other Vermont homeowners have since followed suit.

The eHome program’s open secret is its collaborative approach. Shouldn’t we emulate that here in Maine?