The Growing Ubiquity of Energy Efficiency

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I live in a small town just north of Boston. Two weekends ago, we held our annual “Town Day”, which is a town fair where they close-off the roads in town center and have a bunch of activities and performances with fireworks at night. It’s a classic small-town event — tons of fun and a great chance to bump into friends you may not have seen in a while.

Energy efficiency in small-town USAIn addition to all the activities, town day has groups and vendors in booths lining the downtown streets, promoting their organizations or businesses – from soccer clubs to karate lessons to house painters.

As I started walking down Main Street at this year’s event, I was very happy to spy a vendor promoting their home energy audit and retrofit services. They offer blower-door tests to evaluate the thermal envelope of your house. They also offer their customers air sealing and dense-pack cellulose installation services to help fix any leakiness they observe in the home’s envelope.

As an energy geek, I had both an energy audit as well as air-sealing and dense-pack cellulose installed in my house a few years ago. It’s not sexy like solar, but dollar-for-dollar, it’s hard to argue with the value and payback of tightening up your home’s shell.

I thought it was encouraging to see these guys at town day this year – and that maybe this is a sign that energy audit and retrofit services are possibly no longer niche businesses, serving only energy zealots like me. In chatting with them, it sounds like their business is growing nicely. They weren’t energy zealots, either. They were career-long home contractors that saw a good business opportunity in residential energy efficiency and jumped at it.

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Another block away, I did a double-take when I found a second vendor offering home energy audit and retrofit services. And a third firm was not too far away from the second, with a solar installer across the aisle for good measure.

Something is happening here.

Massachusetts certainly has some good incentives for energy retrofit services, so this is driving some of the activity. However, what struck me most was how these four energy services vendors – none of whom were present in my town’s fair for the past 13 years I’ve lived here – seem to have integrated seamlessly into the array of other businesses hawking their wares that day.

Energy audit and retrofit services fit right in next to the house painters who were next to the Pilates instructors. In my observation, no one seemed to find the energy firms unusual, and I saw at least the same volume of locals inquiring about air sealing and blower door tests as I did people looking for estimates to get their homes painted.

fireworks.jpgWith our cold New England winters, old housing stock, and increasingly expensive energy costs (and yes, good incentives), it seems like a bunch of people should be able to have successful businesses selling services to alleviate some of our energy-related pain. If my small town is any kind of indicator of a general trend, energy efficiency service providers and renewable energy installers are becoming more and more mainstream –just like any other contractor you might call for a project with your home. I find this very encouraging.