With Boston Pilot Project, Next Step Living Aims to Show Energy Efficiency Retrofits Aren’t Only for the Wealthy

10/21/10Follow @xconomy

Retrofitting homes for energy efficiency may not be as expensive or unattainable as consumers may think, says Next Step Living founder and CEO Geoff Chapin. His Boston-based startup is working to bring energy improvements to more households by helping consumers making sense of the array of rebates and financial incentives available for such home renovations, and marketing the improvements to wider groups of homeowners, rather than individuals.

“We felt the big reason why people hadn’t taken action yet was that they didn’t know the real value of what people could achieve,” says Chapin, who’s worked as a consultant in the environmental space. “And they didn’t have the community to make it all happen. So we took a community approach.”

Next Step promotes its services through community-based initiatives with cities, nonprofit groups, and employers, like Boston-based EnerNOC. The startup performs home energy assessments and helps homeowners take the next steps in sealing up their houses to prevent heated or cooled air from escaping, a primary factor in driving up energy costs. One such partnership is with the Mass Audubon Society, where members get a discount on Next Step‘s energy efficiency services and track their reduced carbon footprint as a group.

As far as home improvements go, many consumers look to new windows or insulation to reduce their energy costs, but air sealing is an earlier step that can be more effective (and less expensive) than those other methods, Chapin says.

“In the past, people have had insulation put down in the home before the air sealing,” Chapin says. “That’s like wearing a knotted sweater. The air sealing puts down a windbreaker level beneath before the air flows through.”

Next Step starts home energy assessments by blowing air out of the front door of the house, creating a vacuum effect that causes air from outside to leak into the house wherever it can. The technicians then take an infrared camera and highlight the areas through the home where the most air is leaking—in other words, the spots most in need of air sealing.

“It creates a visual picture of what happens and shows the biggest areas for improvement,” Chapin says. “It helps consumers understand why a certain room is always cold and helps them understand what has previously been a black box for their home.”

NextStep comes back a few weeks later to perform the air sealing—by using a caulking gun and sealing cracks with foam—and insulation updates, and also helps consumers make sense of what … Next Page »

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