Keep your house toasty warm — and your energy bills low

Barry Charbonneau at his Littleton store with a gas insert fireplace.
Barry Charbonneau at his Littleton store with a gas insert fireplace. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

As chairman of the Shirley Energy Committee, Bryan Dumont wanted to set an example for other town residents by making his own home as efficient as possible.

He signed up for a free home energy assessment through the MassSave program, implemented several recommendations, saved money, and is now trying to persuade everyone he knows to do the same.

“It was probably one of the smarter things I’ve done, because the savings were, and still are, amazing,’’ said Dumont.

Whether it’s signing up for a no-cost home energy assessment from MassSave, making sure the attic is properly insulated, or installing a new gas fireplace to warm up the family room, now is the time for homeowners to prepare for cold weather, ice dams, and snow buildup.


In Dumont’s case, the MassSave contractor performed about $2,300 worth of work that included adding insulation and weather stripping, and sealing doors and windows to both sides of his 4,000 square-foot duplex. After rebates, his total cost was $331.

And since the assessment three years ago, Dumont estimates he’s saved hundreds of dollars each winter.

“My oil company doesn’t like me but my checkbook does,’’ Dumont said.

In addition to making homes more energy-efficient, insulation also helps prevent ice dams, which caused so many problems for homeowners in the winter of 2015, according to experts.

George Vasiliades, president of Topsfield-based Olympic Roofing, said there are several steps homeowners can take now to make their lives easier this winter. Vasiliades said the first stop should be the attic, to make sure it’s cool, not warm.

“When the attic is not the same temperature as the outside, the heat will melt the snow on the roof and as it runs down and hits the overhang, it will freeze,’’ he said. “It starts creating that rolled-up hill of ice, and that backs up on the roof.’’


Roof shingles aren’t fully waterproof, so when moisture gets underneath, water will start to leak through the roof.

The key to a cool attic is proper ventilation and insulation, Vasiliades said.

Often, he said, poor ventilation can be caused by a simple storage issue. He said homeowners should make sure any boxes or other items aren’t pushed up against vents, restricting air flow.

Most attic floors have about six inches of insulation, but 12 is ideal, he said.

Vasiliades said homeowners should also clean gutters and have a roof rake at the ready to clear away a few inches from the edge as soon as the first storm hits.

If homeowners don’t want to take on the task of assessing insulation on their own, that’s where MassSave can come into play. An initiative sponsored by the state’s utility companies, it offers a wide range of services, rebates, and incentives to residential and business customers to improve energy efficiency.

Bill Stack, the energy efficiency spokesman for Eversource, said the home energy assessment is something every homeowner should take advantage of. He said an energy specialist will inspect every part of the home from the basement to the attic, looking at all energy usage.

The customer will receive a report with suggestions such as updating heating equipment, increasing installation, or replacing windows. Customers are typically eligible for rebates and can even apply for a zero-percent loan to fund improvements.

In addition, customers receive free light bulbs, programmable thermostats, and low-flow faucets and shower heads — all of which are installed by MassSave. Customers also receive advanced power strips.


“We try to emphasize to the homeowner that becoming more energy-efficient is the single most important step they can do to gain control of their energy usage and cost,’’ Stack said.

And once the house is secure from the elements, homeowners can sit back and relax by a cozy fire.

Store owners say customers are arriving at this time of year to make their winter purchases. Gas fireplaces or inserts are the most popular items, though some are still buying wood and pellet stoves.

Oil prices are down, so fewer homeowners are turning to alternative energy sources and are focusing on products for ambience or to warm up small spaces.

“All they have to do is hit a button on the wall or their remote, and it turns on,’’ said Rania Sarras, owner of South Shore Fireplace and the Chimney Chap in Hanson. “There is no loading wood or trying to get a fire going. Especially in the time we’re living, people just want something that’s easy.’’

Barry Charbonneau, owner of the Woodstove & Fireplace Shop in Littleton, said gas fireplaces can be as simple or elegant as a customer wants, with costs starting at $1,200. Inserts range from $2,000 to $4,000.

He said that a traditional-looking fireplace with logs is the most popular design, but that those are quickly losing ground to more modern, contemporary styles that are wider and not as high.


“Gas fireplaces and inserts are very easy,’’ he said. “They come with a remote so you click the button and you get heat.’’

And if homeowners don’t have a gas line connected to the house, they can use propane to fuel the fire, he said.

Alan Davis, general manager of Yankee Fireplace Grill & Patio in Middleton, said many customers are buying gas inserts to place inside traditional fireplaces. He said it’s cleaner, less maintenance, and more energy-efficient because wood-burning fireplaces suck the warm air out through the flue. He said it’s a great way to heat one room of the house where the family is gathered, while keeping other parts of the home cool.

“A slogan in our industry is ‘heat where you live.’ You may be more often in a family room, so let’s heat that space. It also becomes a piece of furniture. They are very decorative and set the décor of the home.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.