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Bristol resident takes steps to create a greener home

UPON MOVING TO Bristol in 2016, Sally Jenks Roth decided to have solar panels installed to generate renewable energy for her home. Leasing the panels is one of a few steps Roth has taken to make her house more eco-friendly and energy efficient. Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — After residing in older homes, Sally Jenks Roth knew that when she moved into a home in Bristol that was only a decade old, it would be more efficient to heat and cool simply because of the newer construction.

Unlike the drafty, older homes she’s lived in previously, Roth’s current abode was built in 2010. The homeowner said proper insulation and newer windows meant that the home was fairly energy efficient when the couple moved in. 

“This isn’t anything new, but this is the first time that I’ve ever had an energy efficient house or a new house. I love old houses and that’s the way I’ve always lived in this country and elsewhere,” Roth said. 

But there were still things they could do to make their home more energy efficient and more climate-friendly. Living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle has always been a priority for Roth. 

Since moving into her current house in 2016, Roth and her husband, Ken, have taken a variety of steps toward making their home more energy efficient. The couple has installed solar panels and powerwalls and most recently, put in a heat pump. 

Living in a well-insulated home has played an important role in reducing Roth’s energy use. Upon moving into the Bristol home, Roth’s first initiative was to transition the couple’s remaining energy use to a more renewable resource. 

The couple decided to install solar panels, which they lease from Tesla.

“I didn’t really want to expend the money to buy the solar panels, but I pay a monthly fee to have them on the roof and what I don’t use goes back to the (electric power) grid,” Roth said. 

Roth and her husband also lease two Tesla Powerwalls through a Green Mountain Power program. The powerwalls — basically a system of large batteries — stores solar energy generated by the panels to provide power when the grid is down or at night. 

“That is something that is great when we lose power, which has happened occasionally,” Roth said of the Powerwalls.

INSTALLING THIS HEAT pump was the latest in a series of projects Bristol resident Sally Jenks Roth has taken on to make her home more energy efficient and climate-friendly.
Independent photo/Steve James

HEAT PUMPS 

Roth’s most recent home project was installing a Mitsubishi heat pump. She said the purchase was a few years in the making. 

“I did lots of research online, I talked to several heating people, and I started my effort to have a heat pump several years before I got one because there were not enough people to do the work (of installing),” Roth said. 

In the past year, Roth was able to purchase a heat pump from Jackman’s Inc., a home heating supply company in Bristol. Jackman’s supplies propane for and services Roth’s boiler, and the homeowner said the familiar company was helpful in the heat pump installation process.

Heat pumps cool and heat your home by transferring heat from a cooler space to a warmer one, moving warm air from outside into your home in the winter and reversing their operation during warmer months. 

Phil Bickel, a senior program manager at Efficiency Vermont who specializes in heat pumps, said heat pumps can offer a more energy-efficient way to heat and cool your home. Efficiency Vermont is a statewide energy efficiency utility regulated by the Public Utility Commission.

“The cold climate heat pumps that are eligible for our rebate are highly efficient and designed to work well on all but the coldest days in Vermont’s climate. They use less energy than many other heating and cooling systems such as baseboard electric heat, propane or oil,” Bickel said. “In addition, heat pumps also offer air conditioning/cooling when used in the summer. When in cooling mode, they’re more efficient than room air conditioners.”

This summer will be the first that Roth uses the heat pump to keep her house cool, but she feels confident the new addition will be enough to keep her home comfortable. The homeowner is less optimistic about the winter months, when Roth knows she’ll have to continue using her propane boiler in addition to the heat pump.

The main floor in Roth’s home is warmed by radiant floor heating, run with hot water from the propane boiler. 

“Even if we put (a heat pump) on the main floor as well, during the coldest part of the winter we’d still have to rely on the fossil fuel heat because these things are not yet efficient enough to cope with extreme cold,” Roth said. “I try to make it as efficient as possible, but I can’t do everything. I can’t get rid of the propane entirely, which I’d like to do, until the heat pumps can manage Vermont winters.” 

SALLY JENKS ROTH with her Tesla powerwall.
Independent photo/Steve James

IMPORTANCE OF INSULATION 

Though she can’t yet transition away from propane entirely, Roth said the couple has drastically reduced their reliance on their propane boiler. 

Roth sees her home’s insulation as playing a key role in that reduction and in increasing her house’s energy efficiency. She noted they have taken additional steps to weatherize the home, such as boarding up basement windows to reduce heat loss and purchasing blinds with insulation properties. 

Roth said she believes that blocking out the cold and trapping in the heat are good first steps for anyone looking to make their home more energy efficient. 

“I think weatherization is the number one first thing that people can do with older houses. I think that’s important because there’s no point in putting in efficient systems if the heat is going to all go out through the windows or walls,” she said. 

Bickel agreed that homeowners may want to consider weatherization before installing a heat pump, particularly those that live in an old home or a home that is leaky and under-insulated. Efficiency Vermont also offers financial support for homeowners looking to take on weatherization efforts. 

“Weatherizing your home can reduce drafts and make the home feel more comfortable. It will also save you on heating bills, regardless of how you heat your home,” Bickel said. “Efficiency Vermont offers incentives to help pay for weatherization work. In addition, we’ve partnered with local financial institutions to offer low/no-interest financing via the Home Energy Loan.”

AVAILABLE RESOURCES 

Roth said she found Efficiency Vermont to be a helpful resource for advice while navigating various energy-efficiency projects in her home. The program offers a variety of financial supports, technical services and other resources.

The tax credits and incentives available for heat pumps and other energy efficiency-related purchases helped support her energy efficiency home improvement projects, she said. One financial incentive she didn’t get was tax credits for her solar panels, which are claimed by the leasing company. 

The homeowner acknowledged that while she was ultimately able to afford the energy efficient upgrades she’s made to her home, not everyone is. 

“I’m lucky enough to have saved enough for my retirement that I could afford these things, that’s why I lease things rather than buy them,” Roth said. “It’s very complicated and it’s obviously not for everyone and I wish it could be.”

Efficiency Vermont offers financial support for homeowners looking to take on various energy-efficiency related projects in their home, such as installing a heat pump. Bickel said there are instant discounts available for ductless heat pumps, which start at $350. 

“There are additional rebates available, depending on a customer’s utility and household income. For homes that use ducts for heating, there are instant discounts for ducted heat pumps starting at $1,000,” he said. “Heat pump projects are all eligible for the Home Energy Loan, which starts at 0% interest based on household income.”

Efficiency Vermont can also help connect customers to participating HVAC distributors to have their heat pumps professionally installed. 

For those who are considering whether to install a heat pump, Efficiency Vermont offers a variety of information online. 

“On our website you’ll find information about how heat pumps work, if a ductless heat pump is right for your home, and tips on best practices to maximize their benefits,” Bickel said. “We also provide a listing of contractors that specialize in installing heat pumps. If you have additional questions, our Customer Support staff are available to help.”

Roth said she believes it’s important to take steps toward a greener home, and lifestyle, when individuals are able to do so.

“It’s a big learning curve and I think people have to really feel strongly, the way I do, that we have to make changes and maybe spend more money and put up with less than we want, because it’s really important to save this planet,” she said. “I try to be a responsible person because I have grandchildren and I really care that the planet stays a beautiful place, so that people can inhabit it rather than what the scientists have been telling us for years is going to happen if people don’t make changes.”

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