How We Started
In 2008, a handful of local people, terrified by climate change, organized an Energy-Upgrade Work-Party. We wanted to teach volunteers hands-on skills to help them save energy in their homes and lower emissions. If the federal government wouldn’t take action, we could still teach people what to do in their own homes
Though we only told a few people about the event, and it poured rain that day, 40 soaking volunteers arrived with their tools, excited to work. After that, we organized an Energy-Upgrade Work-Party every month. Soon we won an initial grant, and HEET was launched.
Forming HEET Sister Groups
For the first few years, we helped sister HEET groups start up in other communities. Over 30 teams formed around Greater Boston, from Quincy to Arlington, Dorchester to Worcester. We helped by providing energy expertise, tools, organizations help and experienced team leaders to teach skills.
Working with Nonprofits
To keep energy upgrades going, we partnered with other organizations to hose work parties in the buildings of nonprofits, such as preschools, churches and community centers. Many organizations, through lack of funds and expertise, had drafty, inefficient buildings. Our work lowered their energy bills so they could deliver more critical services to their communities. We also taught hands-on skills in diverse communities that people could use to lower their energy bills and emissions.
Helping Residents Save Money and Energy
In 2011, HEET was selected as an NSTAR Community Outreach Pilot Partner. We helped sign up residents in Cambridge for Mass Save home energy assessments. These free assessments install energy-saving devices and allow residents to access large rebates for any further work they might need such as adding insulation. In less than a year, we signed up 394 homes for assessments.
Helping Houses of Worship
In partnership with Mass Interfaith Power & Light and with funding from the Barr Foundation, HEET started the CARES program. Specializing in houses of worship such as churches and temples, HEET organizes work-parties and guides congregations toward the further work their buildings desperately need.
In these times of great social and economic need, houses of worship are increasingly open seven days a week for events such as AA classes, food pantries, and homeless shelters. This use radically increases energy bills for buildings that were intended for limited use. Many lack insulation, efficient heating systems, or even simple maintenance. Because many houses of worship don’t have the funding to get energy efficiency, HEET donates $50 to the house of worship for every home energy assessment its members accept. In this way, HEET helps the house of worship raise the funding it needs to lower its energy bills by socially marketing energy assessments to its congregation. We double the carbon savings and help congregations steward the planet by upgrading their homes as well as their houses of worship.
Using Thermal Images to Spur Upgrades
By partnering with Sagewell—a company that takes thermal images of homes Google-street-view-style—HEET obtained thermal images of every building in Cambridge. Sagewell kindly analyzed the thermal images of every 1-to-4 unit owner-occupied building to find the very worst “energy hog” apartment buildings. HEET sent out personal letters to each building’s owners including the thermal image and explaining the rebates available to upgrade their building.
Leading Cambridge and Somerville Solar Challenges
In 2013, supported by the City of Cambridge, HEET organized the Cambridge Solar Challenge, a program to help homes get solar electric installed. HEET pre-negotiated a 20% discounted price (per watt installed) for the solar installation, then sent a letter through the Mayor to every home with good solar exposure and followed up with a canvass. While the average number of residential solar installations in Cambridge each summer is five, our Solar Challenge achieved more than 50 solar installations. HEET ran the same program in Somerville and to achieve 20 solar installations.
Saving Energy and Money in New England
HEET has learned which skills work best to save energy and money as well as the most effective way to teach these skills. So we wrote the Honest Book of Home Energy Savings, an e-book available on the iPad, Kindle, and as a PDF.
Most do-it-yourself books about saving energy are written for the entire country. They pretend that installing an efficient heating system is just as important in Florida as it is in Massachusetts. The Honest Book can be more accurate because it’s specific to New England. It tells you the most effective energy-saving tasks for our weather, energy use, and buildings.
Mapping Gas Leaks Across the State
In 2014, a new Massachusetts law required utilities to report gas leak locations to the Department of Public Utilities. HEET used these street addresses to create Google maps of over 200 Massachusetts towns and cities. Making the invisible visible, these zoomable maps captured the attention of state and local officials, the media, and the public, sparking campaigns to accelerate leak repair.
Every year, HEET updates the maps, enabling communities to track leaks and take action to reduce methane emissions.
Fixing the Worst Gas Leaks First
In 2016, with new research showing that 7% of gas leaks emit half of all the gas being leaked, HEET helped to pass a second Massachusetts law requiring gas companies to address these “environmentally significant” leaks.
Knowing that utilities had no proven method of finding the high-volume leaks, HEET conducted a pilot study with the three largest utilities in MA—Columbia Gas, Eversource, and National Grid. The Large Volume Leak study confirmed that we can cut methane emissions from gas leaks in half by finding and fixing just 7% of the leaks. The study also established fast, reliable and effective methods for identifying the biggest leaks so they can be prioritized for repair.
HEET is now working with utilities to implement our Shared Action Plan that includes sharing data, verifying repairs, and reassessing methods of addressing large volume leaks.