Mass Save - is it worth the hassle?
Published on 12 Mar, 2019 by Michael Bishop
Categories: Energy efficiency
With energy efficiency upgrades, you can cut your energy bill while not sacrificing comfort or convenience. It’s that behind-the-scenes stuff that makes heating and cooling your home more efficient.
Energy efficiency upgrades can get expensive. But if you’re a Massachussets resident served by one or more of the following utilities, the Mass Save program could cover a lot of the cost.
Berkshire Gas | Blackstone Gas Company | Cape Light Compact | Columbia Gas | Eversource | Liberty Utilities | National Grid | Unitil
Unfortunately, the Mass Save process could potentially be more trouble than it’s worth. We’ll get into that, while also explaining what the Mass Save program is and how to benefit from it.
The Mass Save Process
The Online Home Energy Assessment
We recommend that you first finish Mass Save’s user-friendly online assessment. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to answer multiple-choice questions about your home (for example, is your home’s main heating fuel electricity, natural gas, etc.). Once you’ve answered the questions, you’ll get immediate access to an energy-bill savings estimate, along with recommendations specific to your home (based on your answers).
From there, you can click the Save Energy Now button to request a Home Energy Assessment (that takes place in your home) — applicable online-assessment info will auto-fill the Home Energy Assessment form.
Image source: masssave.com
The Home Energy Assessment (in your home)
This is where you’ll actually start saving money on your energy bill. An energy specialist will visit your home and install applicable energy-savings products for free. These include programmable thermostats (with these, you can set a day-and-time heating and cooling schedule)*, super-efficient LED light bulbs, and advanced power strips (did you know that televisions, laptops, and many other devices use electricity even when they’re off? — advanced power strips prevent that). The energy specialist will also seal up air leaks during the assessment. On top of this “low-hanging fruit,” the energy specialist might recommend heating and cooling system upgrades, insulation work, new windows, and other major energy investments that qualify for Mass Save rebates.
* While free programmable thermostats are better than manual thermostats, we recommend paying extra to get a smart wi-fi (wireless) thermostat. You can control wi-fi thermostats from anywhere, and they can “learn” your heating preferences over time (making your life a little simpler). Mass Save offers rebates on wi-fi thermostats.
Beware Home Energy Assessment Pitfalls
A potential problem, as noted in this article, is that the “energy specialist” who visits your home might not actually know much about homes under the surface. For example, they might not be able to identify the bigger, but more involved, opportunities for “weatherizing” your home.
Another potential problem is that the energy specialist might recommend inappropriate energy-efficiency upgrades so they can make more money. In one situation, a Home Energy Assessment energy specialist enthusiastically recommended an electric-heat pump for a home that already had a modern 90%+ efficient boiler (fortunately, that home’s owner knew better — he’s a master builder, with a blog).
You can let Mass Save pick the energy specialist, or you can choose from a list of participating Home Performance Contractors. We recommend picking your own contractor — do a little research to find a well-reviewed participating contractor in your area. Apart from the obvious review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List, participating contractors who also install solar are listed at SolarReviews — where all reviews are screened and can only be left by actual customers of those contractors.
Getting Mass Save rebates
You can optionally skip the Home Energy Assessment, going straight to insulation work and major equipment upgrades. See available rebates at this Mass Save webpage. These rebates are substantial, and can make some major upgrades a no brainer — especially if your home is particularly leaky, or has an ancient heating system, air conditioner, refrigerator, clothes washing machine, or other appliance.
Getting home insulation retrofit rebates
Tightening up your home by adding or improving insulation can be a great financial investment. And it can make your home more comfortable too (less drafty). Unfortunately, the Mass Save program is a little particular about what sort of insulation work is eligible for a rebate. For example, they don’t provide rebates on new insulation where old insulation already exists — even if that old insulation is poor quality and poorly installed (in other words, even if the insulation upgrade is a smart energy decision).
If you run into this situation, consider having preliminary work done in order to qualify for the Mass Save insulation rebate (for example, have old insulation removed first). This Byggmeister Design Build blog post shares more detail on beating the system and working around Mass Save limitations.
Getting Mass Save rebates on equipment upgrades
Mass Save offers rebates on all sorts of equipment upgrades.
Unfortunately, some applicants struggle to actually get the rebate check. ...Or even get a response from the utility administering Mass Save in their area. This CBS Boston article from year 2017 describes two of these cases. Dozens of Mass Save rebate-process complaints were made to the Massachusetts Attorney General, as reported by CBS Boston.
These rebate problems might be the extreme exception. Just take note that you could potentially have trouble getting the rebate, and it might take longer than Mass Save’s initial estimate.
The Mass Save loan
Major energy-efficiency upgrades, while often a great decision, can be cost prohibitive. Fortunately, Mass Save will lend up to $25,000 at zero interest. But they don’t let the loan term go over 7 years — if you end up borrowing the full $25,000, the related $300 monthly payment could be a challenge.
Take advantage of Mass Save, because you’re paying for it
Despite potential problems with Mass Save, we recommend that you seriously consider taking advantage of it. After all, you’re paying for it! Look for the Energy Conservation line-item on your energy bill. As of March 2019, it’s a quarter of a penny per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Assuming a typical home in Massachussets uses 11,250 kilowatt-hours per year, that’s almost a $30 annual cost. And you’ve been charged for this program since it started in 2008 — it’s time to recoup your investment!
We hope this article helped you better understand the Mass Save energy-efficiency program. It’s a big reason why Massachussets has been ranked the #1 state in the nation for energy efficiency every year since 2011 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Overall, we think it’s a great resource for cutting your home’s energy bill and carbon emissions.
We also hope this article has helped you set better expecations going into the Mass Save process — even the best programs have limitations and potential pitfalls.