Roslindale Neighbors: Homeowners go green to save money

Homeowners in Roslindale and Jamaica Plain are renovating their home for the good of the planet and their wallets.

Joseph LaRusso, owner of 9 Beryl St. in Roslindale, added solar panels to his roof after it sprung a leak. Edith Buhs and Peter Thomson, owners of 61 Hampstead Road in JP, completely renovated the “envelope” of their home—the walls, windows, roof and basement—cutting their heating expenses by 75 percent since 2006.

Both have added their homes to the Energy Sage database, a company that promotes environmental upgrades as sound business investments. Energy Sage was responsible for a region-wide coordination of recently-upgraded open houses, including Buhs’s, on Oct. 13.

LaRusso has been concerned about climate change for a long time, he said, and after his roof started to fail a few years ago, he knew this was the time to make a change for the planet and for himself.

“I’m concerned about the climate. Here’s an opportunity for me to contribute to the solution,” LaRusso said. “[But] it’s not just about being green, it’s about advancing yourself financially.”

LaRusso installed 16 solar panels to his roof as it was being replaced last October.

“Solar arrays have a lifespan of 20 years, about the same as a roof,” he said, explaining why it makes sense to coordinate the installation.

After his panels went in, his need for grid-supplied energy—as opposed to self-generated—has disappeared. He hasn’t purchased a single Watt since March.

“I actually have an $89 credit on my NStar account,” he said. That means his home is generating more energy than he can use and is supplying energy back to the grid.

LaRusso owns a two-family home and decided to cover his own costs for the project with a home equity loan. The project cost just over $28,000, with LaRusso only actually paying $12,500 of that. The rest was covered by rebates and tax credits.

Buhs and Thomson, meanwhile, started working on their home almost as soon as they bought it in 2006, Buhs said.

“We realized we had almost no insulation,” she said. “We’re also very focused on the impact of climate change and our impact to it. We were interested in what’s possible for older homes.”

Buhs and Thomson’s home, about 100 years old, was renovated in two stages, Buhs said. The first stage involved installing basic insulation and a new high-efficiency heating system.

Buhs and Thomson started with an energy audit. They followed with insulation and replacing their “ancient, oil-burning heating system,” to a microcombined heat and energy boiler. The system links energy to heat, using waste heat to create electricity.

“It’s like hybrid for the home,” Buhs explained.

The second stage was “much bigger and more complicated,” Buhs said, and involved installing high-efficiency insulation in every wall, the basement and the slate roof.

“We needed new siding, so we decided to strip everything and add 4 inches of insulation to the walls,” she said.

The roof was insulated from underneath, preserving the slate tiles. The basement got the same deep insulation. The couple also rebuilt their porches and replaced 15 windows.

“We turned the whole house into a large furnace. Now in both winter and summer, it’s more comfortable,” Buhs said.

While Buhs declined to say exactly how much she and Thomson spent on the renovations, she said they spent about one third of their home purchase price on the work.

“We’re really happy. The house is more attractive, more comfortable, saves us money, is better for the planet, has reduced maintenance costs for the next few decades. And we’ve made a century-old home a quality home for another 100 years,” she said.

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