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NW Home Comfort: Better living through technology, but low-tech education first

NW Home Comfort: Better living through technology, but low-tech education first

After years working with companies like Apple and Microsoft, NW Home Comfort owner Marco Mazzoni is passionate about the potential for technology to improve people’s lives. “Technology is going to make it easier and easier to be more efficient,” he said. “Self-programming thermostats, occupancy sensors for lighting, and smart windows that convert sunlight to energy are all on the way,” he says. In the meantime, as a Community Power Works energy auditor and BPI Certified building analyst, Mazzoni’s first step to helping homeowners become healthier and more efficient is to provide some low-tech education. “There is a disconnect on health and safety issues that should matter to homeowners, but doesn’t,” he said.

During home energy audits, Mazzoni routinely informs homeowners of disconnected ductwork and decomposing animals in crawlspaces which contribute to harmful air quality. He also debunks assumptions about energy costs. “I had one customer running five electric space heaters all winter because she was afraid of paying for her natural gas furnace,” he said. “I helped her do the math to understand how her heaters cost about $100 per week to run, which was far more expensive than if she had used gas.”

Mazzoni finds a natural fit with Community Power Works and his holistic “triple-bottom line: people, planet, profits” approach to his business, which was instilled in him as a Sustainable Business MBA graduate of Bainbridge Graduate Institute. Mazzoni feels that the program benefits the homeowner, the environment, and the entire community. He has been working in the field since 2008 and says there is no other program he is aware of that offers more financial help to homeowners converting from fossil fuel heat sources like oil to cleaner, more efficient energy.  “Things can work out so that, by not buying oil, homeowners can be cash-positive through the Community Power Works program – even after expenses,” he said. read more

CPW Summer Events

CPW Summer Events

Summer is here and Community Power Works is excited enjoy the sunshine and promote energy efficiency! We are happy to announce that CPW now serves all Seattle City Light customers in Tukwila, Renton, Burien, Lake Forest Park, and Shoreline. Interested in joining or hearing more about our program? Catch us at the following events this summer:

Burien Farmer’s Market
When: Thursday, July 24th from 11:00-6:00
Where: 427 SW 152nd St; Burien, WA

Northwest Solar Fest
When: Saturday, July 26th from 10:00-5:00
Where: Shoreline Community College; 16101 Greenwood Ave N; Shoreline, WA

Tukwila Lowe’s Home Improvement
When: Fridays, August 1st and 8th from 11:00-6:00
Where: Lowe’s Home Improvement; 101 Andover Park E; Tukwila, WA

Shoreline Farmer’s Market
When: Saturdays, August 2nd and 9th from 10:00:-3:00
Where: 17500 Midvale Ave N; Shoreline, WA

We are excited to welcome all Seattle City Light ratepayers into the CPW community and welcome you to join us at any of these events. Hope to see you there!

SustainableWorks Mobilizes for a Mission

SustainableWorks Mobilizes for a Mission

Over two years ago, SustainableWorks began its mission of upgrading homes to be more energy efficient. A pioneering organization in the field of energy efficiency, SustainableWorks is unique among Community Power Works contractors; they’re a non-profit with a triple bottom line mission to create quality jobs, reduce our collective carbon footprint and build strong communities.

With the aid of grant funding, SustainableWorks has spurred nearly1500 homeowners to explore weatherization measures for their homes and completed 500 retrofits throughout Washington state. Even more impressive, is that SustainableWorks has assembled an army of nearly 200 volunteers to support the organization and spread the good word about home energy efficiency.

According to SustainableWorks’ Kellie Stickney, “Volunteers are the lifeblood of (our) efforts.” Our forty SustainableWorks/CPW volunteers talk to their friends, staff tables and phone banks, canvass neighborhoods door-to-door, speak at their churches and community clubs, and send out social media updates.” According to Stickney, the effort of these volunteers and others has helped to keep 2 million pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere; an amount that grows year after year.

Happy homeowner, Alec White

The work is having a positive effect. Alec White, owner of a 1907 home which received weatherization and heating upgrades through SustainableWorks said, “My house is more efficient. I’m saving money. I’m cool in the summer and more comfortable in the winter. And the people who came into my house to do the work were very professional.” Brooks Kolb, a landscape architect and Co-Chair of the Columbia City Climate Co-op (www.climatecoop.org) who upgraded his home last fall said, “I would definitely use SustainableWorks again. I strongly support the work that CPW and SustainableWorks are doing.” read more

Carlisle Pack Joins Community Power Works

Carlisle Pack Joins Community Power Works

When asked what it takes to be a contractor, Rob Carlisle says you need a truck, a dog, and a circular saw. While Denali – the charismatic Tibetan Mastiff PAWS rescue – is certainly part of Carlisle’s crew, the dogs he’s referring to are actually the team of University of Washington “Dawgs” that make up the Carlisle Classic Homes pack.

“I didn’t plan it that way,” says UW alumnus Carlisle. “There is one (Washington State University) Cougar in our midst, but he has to take a lot of grief for it.” While Carlisle Classic Homes employees were not hired specifically for their academic (or animal) affiliations, or even their in-depth knowledge of construction, they were chosen, Carlisle said, “because they are bright, talented people who are passionate about the industry and the environment.”

Carlisle’s pack mentality and concern for the environment extend from his wife and two small children to the global community.  “Having kids changes your perspective,” he said. “I want to help make a world that they will be happy to inherit, and for them to enjoy the same things that we had growing up.”

Concerned with toxic threats to children, like poor indoor air quality, Carlisle encourages his clients to incorporate upgrade measures into their renovation projects. “Renovations and energy upgrades go hand in hand,” he said. Upgrades allow for a healthier, more efficient finished product, he said, and often create more living space in homes from removing duct work or chimneys in favor of cleaner, more innovative solutions.  Also, choosing to make energy upgrades during the renovation process helps to reduce both ongoing and immediate costs, particularly with the current incentives available through Community Power Works. read more

A “Sweet” Message of Home Stewardship

A “Sweet” Message of Home Stewardship

Have you spotted the Blue House? This fall, Lucia Neare’s Theatrical Wonders has created a Community Power Works-inspired performance series called “There’s No Place Like Home,” in which a nearly 14’ tall blue Victorian house roams the streets of Seattle, living out its dreams. The house is often accompanied by a family of blue bears, who are working to better understand and care for their home, all with the help of their gnome friends.

The whimsical performance about home stewardship encourages those in its audience to care for their own homes, especially through energy conservation. Last weekend at Gas Works Park, the gnomes hosted a “Winterweatherizing Station,” where they helped children weatherize ginger bread houses using cotton candy insulation and licorice weatherstripping!

Lucia Neare discusses the central metaphor of the series in her Artist Statement: “…an ecologically sound future is the natural outgrowth of a culture of care. If we open ourselves to nurturing and care, this naturally extends to our homes, the community, and the environment. There’s No Place Like Home celebrates values of comfort, stewardship, and sustainability.”

The Power of Peer Pressure

The Power of Peer Pressure

For the last five years, OPower has harnessed the power of peer pressure to dramatically reduce residential energy consumption. A company that runs innovative energy-efficiency programs for utilities, OPower’s neighborhood energy challenge competitions have evolved into the largest behavior change experiment in the world. In the 70 utility districts participating in the OPower program, utility customers receive inserts in their utility bills that allow them to compare their energy usage to their neighbors, to make smarter decisions about their energy use, and to help them save on their bills.

The results are powerful. OPower has discovered that 20% of residential energy consumption can be saved by encouraging better behavior through social pressure. This translates into roughly 5% of the annual energy consumption in the United States, equal to $40 billion per year. This energy does not improve wellbeing or create jobs, but contributes to climate change and other societal costs.

By making energy information more visible and engaging, OPower is helping homeowners save more than 2 Terawatt hours per year – enough to power half the homes in Seattle!

Boots-on-the-Ground at Neil Kelly

Boots-on-the-Ground at Neil Kelly

Corey Fitch, the Home Performance and Solar manager at Neil Kelly’s Seattle office, walks the talk as much as possible. Like many Community Power Works participants, Corey lived in a 100-year-old house that was in dire need of a whole-home energy overhaul. Corey decided to put his values of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and home performance to work. With the financial assistance of Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union, Corey completed a retrofit project that included air sealing and insulation, a high-efficiency furnace, LED lighting, a tankless water heater, high performance windows, a heat recovery ventilator, and a 2.4kW solar system.

Corey’s life as an energy efficiency professional began before his work with Neil Kelly when he was a green building consultant for a third-party certification program in California. Eventually, Corey wanted to make more of a direct impact in his community and saw energy efficiency in existing homes as the means to achieving his goals. Corey even seeks ways to promote his passion for energy efficiency abroad, returning recently from a three-month trip to India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. While in Nepal, he and his wife worked with Architects without Borders to renovate the country’s oldest Buddhist convent. They will continue to work with the design team to provide low-impact, resource-efficient housing for the convent.

Back in the United States at Neil Kelly, Corey takes pride in his company’s ability to listen to their clients’ concerns and goals, and to provide an appropriate solution for their retrofit projects. He says Neil Kelly’s team of energy efficiency experts are advocates for their customers, working creatively and effectively to help homeowners achieve their dreams of improved comfort, utility bill savings, carbon reductions, indoor air quality, and improved safety and durability. read more

Fruits and veggies and a side of dessert

Fruits and veggies and a side of dessert

There’s a saying in the energy efficiency world that you have to eat your energy efficiency fruits and vegetables before you can have your solar dessert. A little over a year ago, homeowners Amanda Slepski and Patti West thought they might not get either. Amanda’s father performed an audit of their Georgetown home and estimated the cost of an upgrade, including energy efficiency improvements and solar panels, at close to $50,000. With the costs seemingly insurmountable, Amanda and Patti placed their green dreams on the shelf.

Months later, the couple received a letter from Community Power Works boasting unprecedented incentives to help homeowners move from oil heat to gas or electric heat.  Amanda says, “With the incentives, rebates, and financing options that were made available through CPW, we were thrilled to be able to do something that seemed impossible just a year before!”

Amanda and Patti worked with Community Power Works contractor Puget Sound Solar to develop a comprehensive scope of work – from the efficiency fruits and veggies to the shiny solar dessert. After decommissioning the home’s oil furnace, converting to electric heat pumps, upgrading the knob and tube wiring, insulating the attic, installing efficient lighting, and adding solar panels, Amanda says, “It was amazing to see how tight we were able to get [the house], and we were surprised by how much solar we could produce. We will be able to pay off the solar panels within five years!” And Amanda’s father shares in their delight. Amanda says, “I think my dad is the most excited. He drives people by the house to point out our solar panels!” read more

What is Home Performance–and Who Does It?

What is Home Performance–and Who Does It?

Marketing people love the word “performance.” It just screams better. It’s sort of like a nacho chip-maker using the word “Xtreme” to describe the flavor of their chips. It elicits instant curiosity to experience an Xtreme flavor—or in this case home performance. But, what is home performance exactly?

Home performance is the idea that taking a “whole house” approach to an energy upgrade will be better than just buying and installing parts individually. But, does this holistic approach really make it better?  Or “green?”  These are fair questions to ask about home performance, so let’s take a look at them one at a time.

To put it into perspective, imagine a tree. On your imaginary tree, do you picture roots?  If not, why?  Most likely it’s because you don’t see the roots on most trees, but that doesn’t mean that the roots are not important. The tree is a system. It needs healthy roots, bark, limbs, and leaves in order to grow and be all it can be.

It turns out, a house is a system too, just like a tree. What works in one house may not work in another. Home performance—what Community Power Works is all about—is both art and craft, based on building science, where energy auditors and home performance contractors are trained to think of your house as a dynamic system. Home performance provides a customized solution for every home.

How does home performance make your home “green”?  The goal of home performance is for every house to be comfortable, safe, durable, and energy efficient, and have good indoor air quality. Most green building programs award points for building durability, indoor air quality, health, safety, and energy efficiency. Without building science and performance-built homes, we would have no truly green building programs! read more

We’ll Seal Your Drafts While You Do Holiday Crafts

We’ll Seal Your Drafts While You Do Holiday Crafts

Many Seattle residents participate in Community Power Works to minimize their impact on the environment.  It’s true – upgrading your home is one of the best ways to reduce your household’s energy use and environmental footprint. Upgrades also make your home toasty during the winter months, and with Community Power Works, it’s simpler and more affordable than ever.

As a savvy environmentalist, you might be surprised to learn how significantly your holiday shopping affects the environment. The products most of us buy are full of “embodied energy.” A product’s “embodied energy” includes the energy used to extract raw materials, assemble products in a factory, and ship goods hundreds or thousands of miles to your doorstep.  The things we buy (and often throw away shortly thereafter) leave a profound footprint.

Reducing the environmental impact of your holiday gift-giving is easy—and it can be a lot of fun!  Here are a few DIY holiday gifts ideas made by reimagining common household items:

Cowboy cookie mix in a recycled glass jar.

A mitten gift holder made with scrap paper.

Toilet paper art for the home or office!

A picture frame made from recycled magazines.

Lastly, don’t forget that LED holiday lights are a great way to keep your energy costs down without “bah, humbug-ing!” your family’s holiday cheer.

Thanks to the thousands of Seattleites who have participated in Community Power Works this year!  Wishing you and your family a warm holiday season.

Community Power Works is a Seattle neighborhood-based building retrofit program that will achieve deep energy savings and create green jobs.