Somerville Energy Efficiency Now (SEEN)
The Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development-Housing Division is making sustainability a priority to help create cleaner, safer housing environments. Whether you are a property owner or renter, are living in a single-family or multi-unit home, affordable housing, or commercial space, there is a program for you.
The Road to a Net-Zero Home
Road to a Net-Zero Home Step 1: Get the Most Out of Your Investments
*Please note: The programs and incentives described below are current as of 4/16/19 and are subject to change. Each incentive has its own application process, qualifications, rates, and important dates. Always verify details with providers before moving forward with your project.*
Home Energy Assessment
1-4 Unit Buildings
If you would like to make your home more energy efficient, the Mass Save no-cost Home Energy Assessment is generally a great place to start.
Mass Save is a statewide program. Mass Save provides Somerville residents access to a no-cost Home Energy Assessment, rebates, and 0% interest financing for qualified energy upgrades.
- A Home Energy Assessment lasts between one and three hours. The advisor will conduct a health and safety check looking for toxins and hazards and check the efficiency of your heating system.
- The advisor may provide you with no-cost energy efficiency upgrades like LED light bulbs, programmable thermostats, smart power strips, and water saving devices, for qualified fixtures.
- At the end, the advisor will provide you with a report of their findings and recommendations and discuss available rebates and financing.
- For a complete list of current incentives available from Mass Save, including the 0% interest HEAT Loan, eligibility requirements, and information on how to apply, visit masssave.com. Additional rebates may be available from other organizations.
Homeowners, landlords, and tenants of 1-4 unit buildings can sign up now to be contacted by a Mass Save representative and schedule your no-cost Home Energy Assessment. Please have your utility account numbers accessible prior to scheduling. Your utility account number(s) can be found online at www.eversource.com, www.nationalgridus.com, or at the top of your bill.
Sign Up Online for a No-cost Home Energy Assessment from Mass Save Online or Call 1-866-527-7283
Landlords and Tenants
Qualifying tenants do not need their landlord’s permission to complete an assessment. Tenants that complete a Home Energy Assessment will receive a report with recommendations they may send to their landlords.
- Mass Save offers incentives for landlords for qualified energy upgrades. If the tenants pay for electricity or natural gas, landlords should collect the utility account numbers prior to scheduling an assessment.
- Mass Save requires an account number to conduct a Home Energy Assessment. Tenants should be aware that providing your utility account number to your landlord does not grant them access to your account or to additional account information.
Sign Up Online for a No-cost Home Energy Assessment from Mass Save Online Or Call 1-866-527-7283
Weatherization Measures (Air-sealing and Insulation)
Benefits of Weatherizing Your Home
- Lower the amount of heat energy that is lost in the winter and cool air lost in the summer, and subsequently lower your energy use.
- Save up to 15% in heating and cooling costs by air sealing and adding insulation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Make your home more quiet and comfortable.
- Take advantage of incentives!
- Mass Save no-cost air sealing and discounted insulation: Mass Save offers no-cost air sealing, discounted insulation and 0%-interest financing through the Mass Save HEAT Loan for qualified projects. For a complete list of current incentives available from Mass Save, visit masssave.com.
- See the Income-eligible Programs section for even more incentives towards weatherizing your home.
Programs for 5+ Unit Buildings
- Mass Save offers different incentives for buildings with five or more
- Typically, condominium documents will outline to process for which building assessments or work is completed. For example, you may be required to get approval from the association, property manager or owner to complete a Home Energy Assessment.
- Once your project can move forward, you may contact Mass Save at 1-800-594-7277 to discuss scheduling a site visit. More information is available on the Mass Save website.
Non-profits and Commercial Entities
- Mass Save incentives for commercial properties vary. Please visit the Mass Save website and contact your utility provider directly for more information.
- The City of Somerville Office of Sustainability and Environment may have programs available for Somerville’s commercial properties.
- Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasi-state agency, may offer rebates and incentives for Massachusetts-based businesses. Visit masscec.com for the most current information on available programs.
- Fuel Assistance
- If you currently receive Fuel Assistance, live in a 1-4 unit building, and are interested in receiving no-cost or discounted home energy services, contact Community Action Program Intercity, Inc. (CAPIC) at 617-884-6130 (press option 1) or visit the state Weatherization Assistance Program website. Spanish language services available. The Low-Income Energy Affordability Network (LEAN) Multifamily program is available for larger buildings but requires the landlord to enroll.
- If you want to apply for Fuel Assistance, a program that offers no-cost assessments and heavily discounted weatherization and heating system upgrades, contact Cambridge and Somerville Fuel Assistance at 617-349-9160.
- Utility Discount Rates and Payment Plans
- Eversource and National Grid offer discount rates for energy for eligible customers. Contact your utility provider to discuss payment plans.
- For assistance with applying for discount rates or special discounts, please contact your utility company, City Social Workers at the Health and Human Services department (for residents 18-59 years old) and at the Council on Aging (ages 60 and above).
- Mass Save Enhanced Rebates and Incentives
- Mass Save offers additional incentives for income-eligible Massachusetts residents on qualified energy upgrades.
- Department of Energy Resources Barrier Mitigation Grants
- The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources funds grants for qualifying customers of Mass Save that encounter barriers to completing weatherization or heating upgrades. Barriers may include knob-and-tube wiring, vermiculite, and asbestos.
- Massachusetts Clean Energy Center
- Massachusetts Clean Energy Center offers stepped rebates based on income level for qualified energy upgrades. You may view Step 2: Appliances for more information.
- City of Somerville Income-eligible Home Improvement Programs
- The City of Somerville Housing Division offers assistance for home improvement to qualifying income-eligible property owners and tenants. Assistance may be combined with other rebates.
- Lead Paint Safe Somerville Program
- Housing Rehabilitation Program
- Heating System Replacement Program
Change How We Use Appliances
20 Renter -Friendly Behavior Changes (That Property Owners Can Do, Too!)
*Please note: Consult your lease, landlord, and/or property manager before making any changes in your home or apartment. Do not attempt to install or fix appliances such as thermostats or heating systems on your own. Always read product manuals and instructions.*
- Use curtains or blinds to help regulate the indoor temperature by adjusting them throughout the day based on the position of the sun and desired indoor temperature.
- Lock your windows to help prevent air leaks.
- Purchase and install insulated shades, such as cellular shades, to further insulate your home.
- Install door sweeps and plastic wrap on the windows to minimize air leaks. You can either purchase door sweeps, or make your own!
- Install and utilize a programmable thermostat (If you don’t have one, Mass Save offers one for no-cost during the Home Energy Assessment). For example, you can set the thermostat to lower the temperature automatically when you go to sleep or leave for work, and higher for when you wake up or come home.
- If possible, set your water heater for 120 degrees to reduce the amount of fuel used to heat the water.
- When possible, do full loads of laundry, wash in cold water, and hang to dry.
- If you can’t air-dry your clothes, try switching loads while the dryer is still warm. Dry fabrics with similar weights together to minimize drying time.
- Install faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads. Mass Save can install these on qualifying fixtures at no-cost during the Home Energy Assessment.
- Keep your refrigerator full (full fridges don’t use as much energy to run). If there’s not enough food to keep it full, you can fill a pitcher with water and place it on the shelf.
- Plug in electronics to smart power strips that kill phantom-charges. Up to two power strips may be provided by Mass Save for no-cost during the Home Energy Assessment.
- Turn off and/or unplug appliances that are not in use.
- Purchase small ENERGY STAR-rated appliances when possible.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs, especially on the lights used most often, such as kitchen and bathroom lights. Mass Save can provide these for qualified fixtures during the no-cost during the Home Energy Assessment.
- Move furniture and obstructions away from vents and radiators so that heating, cooling, and air flow are not obstructed.
- Move heat-creating devices away from the thermostat to ensure that it gets a more accurate reading of the zone’s temperature.
- Check and clean or replace air filter regularly and talk to your landlord/tenants about conducting an annual tune-up.
- When washing dishes, fill the sink with water instead of letting it run.
- When using the dishwasher, scrape dishes before loading, run full loads, and use the “no heat” option to dry.
- Adjust your indoor clothing style and function based on the weather.
More Energy-Saving Tips
There are state and federal financial incentives for energy efficient appliances, including heating systems, Wifi-thermostats, water heaters, and other household appliances.
*Please note: These incentives are current as of 4/16/19 and are subject to change. Each incentive has its own application process, qualifications, rates, and important dates. Always verify incentive levels with the provider before moving forward with your project.*
Road to a Net-Zero Home Step 2: Be Prepared to Upgrade to High Efficiency Appliances
Heating and Cooling Systems
Cold-climate Air-source Heat Pumps (ducted/ductless)
Geothermal Heat Pumps (“GSHPs”)
GSHPs are an efficient type of heat pump. They use the near-constant temperature of the ground to provide cost-effective, energy-efficient heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. GSHPs can even supplement your annual water heating demand. More information can be found at www.masscec.com.
- Site Feasibility: GSHPs require a certain amount of space to drill into the ground. Heating capacity demand as well as outdoor obstructions and other factors may impact site feasibility.
- Incentives that may be available:
- The average American household spends more than $900 a year on heating and cooling, every year, according to ENERGY STAR. A smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi enabled device that can automatically adjust temperature settings for optimal performance. Some smart thermostats allow you to track and manage home energy use data in real-time, or even remotely through a smartphone.
- Incentives that may be available
Solar Hot Water Heaters (“SHWH”)
Solar hot water heaters can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. SHWHs almost always require a backup system to meet demand. Back-up can be provided by existing systems or even more efficient products such as tankless or demand-type water heaters (incentives available at www.masssave.com). More information can be found on the Energy Saver website.
- Incentives that may be available:
Heat Pump Water Heater (“HPWH”)
A heat pump can be used to heat water, either as stand-alone water heating system, or as combination water heating and space conditioning system, such as a geothermal heat pump or a conventional water heater. Instead of generating the heat directly, HPWH use electricity to transfer heat. When the air is too cold, it will use a back-up electric system to heat the water. More information about HPWH can be found on the Energy Saver website.
Windows account for approximately 10 to 25% of heat loss in homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If you have single-paned windows and are considering replacing them with energy-efficient windows, Mass Save may have financing available.
- Incentives that may be available:
Renovations and Additions
Road to a Net-Zero Home Step 3: Switch to 100% Clean Electricity
8 Steps to Going Solar in Somerville
See if your home is solar ready with Google Project Sunroof.
Solar photovoltaics (PV) convert sunlight into electrical energy through solar panels connected to an electrical system, or to the electrical grid. Check our Massachusetts Clean Energy Center How It Works diagram to learn more.
Shop around and select an installer.
Purchasing vs. Leasing
If you are purchasing the system, you will receive full incentive values for the energy your produce through net-metering. The owner should expect to recoup the value of the system several years after the system is turned on. Low-interest financing is available for a limited time through the Mass Solar Loan at masssolarloan.com. You may also qualify for a federal tax credit of 30% of the total cost of the system.
If you decide to sign a lease or power-purchase agreement, a customer pays for the solar power system over a period of about 15-30 years, rather than in an up-front payment. Often customers can purchase solar for little or no money down, and often realize energy savings immediately. In a power-purchase agreement, a customer agrees to purchase all the energy from a solar system over a fixed period of time.
Mary, Somerville’s Solar Coach for the Solarize Somerville program put together a wealth or research and knowledge into a blog that was updated regularly throughout the program. Mary lives in a two-family home in Somerville. Her blog explains how she went solar and offers tips for others thinking of doing the same. Note: The rebate and incentive information has changed since this blog was written. Please review the program websites and Step 3: Renewable Energy for more information.
Apply for Permits from the City.
Install the system.
Schedule a final inspection through the City of Somerville.
Your installer will typically be the one to do this.
Request permission to operate from the utility (Eversource)
Your system is interconnected!
Congratulations! You are now solar powered.☺
Resources for Multi-family & Condominium Owners
- Department of Energy Resources A Solar Guide for Condominium Owners and Associations in Massachusetts
- Sunny Cambridge and Solarize Somerville Solar 102 Workshop for Multi-family Homes
- Sunny Cambridge Solar Flowchart for Landlords
- Sunny Cambridge Resources for Condos and Multi-family Homes
- Schedule Z:If you have multiple net-meters on your property, a Schedule Z allows for virtual net metering. Virtual net metering assigns a portion of your net metering credits to another unit’s utility bill. When designing your system, you may ask your installer about this option for your multifamily or condominium building.
- Single Parcel Rule Exception: The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) only allows one meter receiving net-metering credits at the retail rate for excess generated electricity to be installed per each parcel of land. The remaining meters on the parcel will receive wholesale net-metering credits. System owners may petition the DPU for an exception. Please refer to the DPU's website for more information.
Incentives That May Be Available
*Please note: These incentives are current as of 4/16/19 and are subject to change. Always verify incentive levels with the provider before moving forward with your project.*
- Net metering:Net metering is a policy that allows homeowners to receive retail value for the electricity that their solar energy system produces. Once the panels meet your home’s electric demand, net metering allows system owners with solar PV to use excess kilowatts that the panels produce to be fed back into the grid. The utility compensates system owners the excess kilowatts generated.
- Federal Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit: A Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is available for qualified residential and commercial projects. More information about the credit can be found here.
- Massachusetts Residential Energy Tax Credit: Massachusetts owners or tenants who install solar on their principle residence are allowed a solar energy credit against personal income tax equal to 15% of the net expenditure or $1,000, whichever is less.
- Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program: The SMART program is a tariff-based incentive paid directly by the utility company to the solar PV system owner, following the SMART approval process. The base compensation rate for small-scale systems is determined by capacity blocks. The incentive declines as the capacity of each block is met. Additionally, SMART offers a variable incentive for qualifying solar PV plus energy storage systems. More information is available at the Department of Energy Resources website.
- Five-year Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS): Business owners can depreciate solar electric systems over a five-year schedule.
- Business Energy ITC: A sliding tax credit that varies depending on the scale and date of the energy retrofit. Visit the U.S. Department of Energy website to learn more.
- Other financial incentives may be found through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)
- Commercial entities may enjoy additional incentives:
- Limited-time Mass Solar Loan: Low-interest financing is available for a range of credit score through the Mass Solar Loan.
Community Choice Electricity (Renter-Friendly!)
About one-half of Somerville’s total greenhouse gas emissions stem from commercial, institutional, and residential buildings, according to the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The Housing Division is working to reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change. On this page, you’ll find summaries of past sustainability initiatives.
To learn more about the Housing Division’s role in helping Somerville reach its net-zero carbon neutral goals, check out Somerville Climate Forward. To stay informed about sustainability initiatives, sign up for the SustainaVille Newsletter.
If you are interested in volunteering for future energy programs, please sign up for the SustainaVille Newsletter.
HeatSmart CoolSmart Program (2017-2018)
The cities of Boston, MA, Northampton, MA, Portland, ME, Providence, RI, and Somerville, MA received a grant from the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance through the Urban Sustainability Directors Network to create individualized programs to enhance the adoption of renewable thermal technology in New England. Somerville staff worked with consultants and other cities to conduct a market equity and adoption analysis and eventually select a renewable thermal technology to promote through the program.
HeatSmart CoolSmart was a limited-time program to help educate Somerville property owners and residents and provided a discount of up to 15% on air source heat pumps. The program ran between August 2017 and February 2018. Over 200 Somerville property owners completed site visits from the City’s procured installers, NETR and New England Ductless. About 60 cold-climate ductless mini split systems were installed as a direct result of volunteer and staff efforts. Some participants also took advantage of the City’s Housing Rehabilitation program, an income-qualifying program that provides 0% interest, deferred loans for home improvement projects.
National Grid Community Initiative (2016; 2017)
Thanks to resident participation in the 2017 National Grid Community Initiative, Somerville has secured grant funding for future energy programs. Residents that completed Mass Save no-cost Home Energy Assessments and subsequent energy upgrades helped Somerville reach goals set by National Grid. This was the second consecutive year Somerville participated in the Initiative.
Between 2016 and 2017, Somerville residents completed 1,600+ assessments and 1,200+ energy upgrades, reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking nearly 900+ passenger cars off the road for one year. Residents saved more than $1.1 million and the City earned a reusable water bottle station as part of the Shining Community Award, as well as grant funding for future energy initiatives.
Mayor Curtatone and city staff with the SolSmart Bronze award.
The City of Somerville has earned SolSmart Gold Designation from SolSmart, a national designation and technical assistance program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. Launched in April 2016, SolSmart aims to designate 300 communities during the three-year, federally funded program.
SolSmart nationally recognizes communities for adopting programs and practices that make it faster, easier, and cheaper to go solar. To achieve designation, cities, and counties take steps to reduce solar “soft costs,” which are non-hardware costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system. Soft costs now represent roughly two-thirds of the total price of an installed residential system. Reducing these costs leads to savings that are passed on to consumers. A SolSmart designation is a signal that the community is “open for solar business,” helping to attract solar industry investment and generate economic development and local jobs.
Somerville was the first community in Massachusetts to earn Bronze, then Gold designations. In addition, both of Somerville’s Planning and Zoning and Inspectional Services departments earned merit awards for their efforts towards the SolSmart initiative.
Solarize Somerville (2016)
Solarize Somerville volunteers marching in the Memorial Day Parade.
Solarize Somerville was a limited-time incentive program sponsored by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources. The program offered a group-buy discount to Somerville property owners who signed contracts to install solar PV with the City’s procured installer, SolarFlair.
Solarize Somerville ran July-December 2016. Thanks to resident Coach Mary, volunteers, participants, and City staff, 100 residents installing solar arrays as a direct result of programmatic efforts. Somerville surpassed its goal of installing 400 kW of nameplate solar capacity. Because of this accomplishment, SolarFlair granted a free 5kW system to CASPAR.
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