Dismas Team Executive Summary

Sponsor Goal and Objectives Student Researchers Executive Summary Final Report and Video

“Modern civilization is the product of an energy binge . . . but humankind’s unappeasable appetite for energy makes the solutions ephemeral and the challenge permanent” (Crosby, 2006). Today, we flip a switch to illuminate a room. We board a plane to travel thousands of miles in a few hours. We put a number into an HVAC machine to change the temperature of a room. All of this requires large amounts of energy that is usually provided by fossil fuels. Although fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas adequately meet high-energy demands, the developed world continues to expand its desire for energy in ways that push fossil fuels, and the environment’s capacity to endure the impact of fossil fuel extraction and use, to their limit.
As United States residents, we have grown accustomed to using lots of energy on a daily basis without thinking about the costs. According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, about 82 percent of America’s energy came from fossil fuels (EIA, 2014d). Additionally, the EIA ranks the United States as the leading oil consumer in the world, consuming 20% of the world’s oil with an average of 18,490 barrels a day in 2012 (EIA, 2014a; Thaler, 2012). Our reliance on fossil fuels is concerning because fossil fuels are finite resources, harmful to the environment, and increasingly expensive. As the value of fossil fuels increases due to their depletion, the energy we rely on becomes less expendable, and the cost of living increases (Heinberg, 2011). However, saving energy is costly. In particular, it requires critical decision making, active planning, and allocated funding. Nevertheless, investing in the energy reduction process is a wise and beneficial decision.
The benefits of energy reduction efforts in low-income housing organizations are revealed through Dismas House of Massachusetts. Dismas House is a low-income housing organization that “reconciles former prisoners to society, and society to former prisoners” (Dismas House, 2014). It provides housing, programs, and services to meet the needs of its residents. However, meeting the needs of its residents includes meeting the energy demands of Dismas House’s facilities. As the Massachusetts state budget has reduced funding for low-income housing organizations in recent years, paying for energy utilities took a toll on Dismas House and limited its ability to meet its residents’ needs. During the recession in 2009, Dismas House had to close the doors to one of its programs. In order to alleviate the financial pressure that energy payments were exerting on the operating budget, Dismas House invested in energy reduction efforts. These efforts allowed them to allocate the saved funds to services so Dismas can better meet the needs of its residents.
Dismas House’s energy reduction efforts were successful, and inspired its co-executive director, Dave McMahon, to found the Worcester Green Low-Income Housing Coalition (WGLIHC). The WGLIHC was created to recruit other low-income housing organizations to follow Dismas House’s footsteps. If all WGLIHC members can reduce energy costs and use the savings to expand their services, they will contribute towards repairing the social safety net of programs and services that help low-income people, former prisoners, and other Central Massachusetts residents in need.

Goals, Objectives, & Methods

The goal of our Interactive Qualifying Project was to work with Dismas House and the WGLIHC to promote sustainability and reduce their money spent on energy . To accomplish this goal, the executive director of Dismas House and founder of the WGLIHC, Dave McMahon, asked us to evaluate the energy reduction efforts of Dismas House, and create materials to educate other members of the Worcester Green Low Income Housing Coalition (WGLIHC) on the financial and environmental benefits of investing in energy efficiency. In order to achieve this goal, we developed four objectives.
Our first objective was to understand the process Dismas House used to reduce their energy consumption. We conducted a case study on Dismas House in order to learn “how” and “why” they successfully reduced their energy usage. In order to guide our research we proposed the theory that Dismas House’s energy reduction efforts (renovations, upgrades, implementations, etc.) ultimately improved their energy efficiency and saved them money. We tested this theory through archival research of Dismas House’s energy audits, interviews with Dismas House staff, and fieldwork consisting of enrolling members of WGLIHC in the Low-Income Multi Family Retrofit Program.
Our second objective was to identify funding options for WGLIHC members. After gaining a clear understanding of Dismas House’s energy reduction efforts and the funds they utilized to implement them, we needed to determine how other organizations might emulate their success. We tracked the various funding sources Dismas House used to underwrite their energy reduction efforts in order to identify potential sources of funding for other WGLIHC members. We also sought additional funding sources for WGLIHC members.
Our third objective was to create an energy reduction blueprint for the WGLIHC using Dismas House’s success as a framework. We constructed the blueprint to serve as a step-by-step guide that teaches the members of the WGLIHC how to successfully reduce their energy usage. The blueprint was created from the information we gathered in our case study along with the sources of funding that we identified for the WGLIHC members.
Our fourth and final objective was to develop methods for sharing our project findings with members of the WGLIHC. In order to ensure that the WGLIHC benefits from our project, we needed to distribute our blueprint and recommendations to them. To do this we provided Dave McMahon with: a video highlighting the benefits of energy efficiency for low-income housing facilities, our energy reduction blueprint, and flyers and pamphlets containing some of our project findings. Dismas House staff plans to display our video onto the WGLIHC website, and distribute our blueprint, flyers, and pamphlets among the members of the WGLIHC.

Findings & Recommendations

Our findings and recommendations are presented through the Energy Reduction Blueprint we created for members of the WGLIHC. The Blueprint presents a series of recommendations listed in steps, and the information we discovered from the case study serve as the foundation for each step. Through the archival research, fieldwork, and interviews for our case study, we confirmed that our proposed theory was true; the energy reduction efforts of Dismas House produced energy savings.
Through our case study, we found that the Low-Income Multi Family Retrofit (LIMF) Program was a huge contributor to the success of Dismas House. The LIMF Program, administered by the Low-Income Energy Affordability Network (LEAN), supports high-energy consuming low-income multi-family properties through the installation of approved energy-efficient measures (LEAN, 2014). As part of this program, LEAN evaluates a property through an online utility tracking software known as WegoWise, develops ways for the property to become more energy efficient, and coordinates the implementation of energy reduction improvements. The LIMF Program is an advantageous resource for members of the WGLIHC to use in their energy reduction process.
Our recommendations consist of six steps for present and future WGLIHC members to consider. In order to make a housing facility more energy efficient, an organization must:

  1. Create an energy assessment baseline and identify opportunities for improvements By enrolling in the LIMF Program, Dismas House established an energy assessment baseline at all three of their facilities with the help of LEAN, National Grid, and WegoWise in 2010. All involved organizations identified temperature control as an opportunity for improvement.
  2. Devise a plan for improvement and make initial financial projections. In 2010, Dismas House planned to address its temperature control problems at all three locations. We found the projections for the implementations included an initial cost of $11,000 and savings of $23,000 in the next 20 years.
  3. Identify funding options. LEAN and NSTAR funded most of Dismas House’s renovations between 2010 and 2011, so Dismas House did not have to use money from their operating budget for these improvements. In June 2014, Dismas House received $120,000 from various benefactors to install solar panels at all three facilities. In addition to fully funding this installation through private gifts, they also receive credit from the state for using the solar panels.
  4. Implement improvements. LEAN and National Grid coordinated the majority of the early improvements made at Dismas House.
  5. Evaluate success of changes. Before and after renovations, energy data was transferred into Dismas House’s WegoWise account, which calculates all energy utility usage and related costs at each of Dismas House’s facilities.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 if there are any remaining opportunities for improvement. Dismas House continually implemented renovations since 2010. Since the initial insulation, weather-stripping and air sealing improvements in 2010, Dismas House installed Micro-Combined Heat and Power units in 2012 and solar panels in 2014.

Energy reduction is a layered and complicated process, but also a wise investment for any low-income housing organization. Between 2010 and 2013, Dismas House saved a total of 31,245 kWh, which is enough to power 3 average sized houses in the United States for one year (EIA, 2014b; US Census Bureau, 2013). They also saved an average of $164.74 per month on their energy bills, which covers approximately 24% of their average monthly grocery bills. Furthermore, these numbers do not include any of the savings produced by the recently installed solar panels. This means that the current savings of Dismas House are much greater than the numbers we calculated. Yet the energy savings should not end there; members of the WGLIHC have the opportunity to experience similar results to Dismas House. If members of the WGLIHC follow this Energy Reduction Blueprint, we are confident that they will successfully reduce their energy usage and save money spent on energy.