You Can Achieve Net Zero: Here’s How

Cynthia Whitty
The Marshquists were able to get 75 percent of the cost covered for insulating their attic and parts of their basement using MassSave. (Photo/supplied)
Issue Date: 
October, 2019
Article Body: 

For the past year the Ashland Sustainability Committee has been working on a “Net Zero” initiative. The committee’s resolution, which will be ready for the Nov. 20 town meeting, will set a long-term goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions for the town by the year 2040.
While net zero is ambitious, it can be achieved. Many residents in town have taken steps to save energy and reduce waste. Some residents are just starting to implement changes to their homes and lifestyles; others have already reached net zero.
Preston Crow is an early adopter of solar power and electric vehicles. He had a 3.4kW solar array installed in 2009, and a second 5.1kW east-facing array installed in 2015 at the same time he purchased his first electric car. In 2017, he replaced his other gas car with an EV.
“We don’t pay a lot of attention to our electric bills anymore because they’re usually quite small,” Crow said. “In June we had a credit. Solar panels are a lot like electric cars—they just work with almost no maintenance.”
Chris and Erin Strazzulla’s house was built in 2014 with the goal of being a net zero home. The builder, Mike Kane, employed a variety of state-of-the art systems in the house in order to boost efficiency. Thick foam insulation and triple-glazed windows help the house achieve a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) of 0 (meaning the house uses no net-purchased energy).
The house uses a whole-house heat recovery ventilation system to bring in fresh air and control humidity without losing heat. Heating and cooling is done via Mitsubishi electric heat pumps, which can work in temperatures as low as -13, with backup heat from a propane fireplace. The electricity to power the systems comes from a large 13.5 kW DC rooftop solar system. These advanced systems do add to the home price, but it is estimated that the home will save roughly $70,000 in energy costs over 25 years.
“I think it is pretty cool that aside from that first initial upswing, while the panels kicked in/accrued credits, we have paid one month’s electric bill since spring 2015, and the house is so incredibly air-tight from the extra thick foam insulation,” Erin said.
Although it is ideal when a house can be built with energy efficiency in mind, most Ashland residents live in homes that must be renovated to be that efficient. Sustainability Committee chair Matt Marshquist is familiar with this challenge. His family moved to Ashland in 2010, buying a ranch house that was built in the 1950s. Because their home was built before modern building codes, it was not well insulated. They took advantage of the Mass Save program ( to conduct a free home energy audit. Through Mass Save, they were able to hire a contractor to do additional insulation work in their attic and basement for almost no charge. (Mass Save offers a 75 percent incentive for approved insulation improvements.)
When it was time to replace their gas furnace, they were able to get a significant rebate through the Mass Save program. “We have a ways to go before we reach net zero, and we are spacing our improvements out to align with our budget, but I’m confident we can get there,” Marshquist said.