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Thermal Images Reveal Needham Homes' Energy Loss

Woburn-based Sagewell Inc. recently took a photographic survey of houses in town to encourage residents to begin the process of energy assessment.

This fall, Needham residents are being encouraged to take a closer look at their homes—and possibly make some simple upgrades that could help keep the chill of winter out and save them money on their utility bills.

Sagewell Inc., a company based in Woburn, captured hundreds of thermal images of homes in Needham and other area towns last winter, using a drive-by, shoot-from-the-street process similar to Google mapping. Now, the company is making those images available to homeowners free of charge via their secure website, and encouraging residents to take the next step by arranging a free in-home assessment of their energy usage.

The thermal images offer residents a snapshot look at where heat escapes their house—through gaps in insulation, outdated windows or other inefficiencies. To view the images, a homeowner can log on to sagewell.com, type their address into the “Find your home” box and request the free thermal images, along with an energy assessment.

“There is no cost to homeowners for this program,” said Brad Harkavy, Sagewell Inc.'s chief operating officer.

The in-home energy assessment is already paid for through Massachusetts homeowners’ utility bill charges, and begins a process through which qualified homeowners can access discounted energy efficiency products and services, Harkavy said. Available discounts include 75 percent off the price of insulation (up to $2,000) and 0 percent interest loans to replace a home's single-pane windows or heating system.

The images provided by Sagewell are a great first step to helping people visualize how heat escapes, Harkavy said, likening it to a pipe leaking in someone’s basement.

“If the pipe is leaking water all over the basement, you call the plumber,” he said.

Homeowners who start the process now should be able to complete a first stage of energy-efficient improvements by the end of the year—allowing them to benefit from incentives both in 2012 and in 2013 if they decide to continue the project, Harkavy said.

Another benefit of starting now: Having a less drafty house this winter.

“There’s the money savings and the energy savings, but there’s also the comfort aspect,” he said.

Many of the improvements are pretty simple.

“The three things that have the biggest impact on a home’s energy efficiency are having programmable thermostats, high-efficiency furnaces and insulation. These three things can have a dramatic impact on your energy consumption,” Harkavy said.

The Sagewell Inc. program complements Green Needham’s ongoing campaign, begun more than a year ago, to get Needham homeowners to schedule energy assessments, with a goal of making improvements that improve their home’s energy efficiency.

“We got about 300 households to do the assessment, and a bunch did follow up with that, so we are extremely pleased with the results,” Green Needham chairman Michael Greis said of the campaign.

That existing push for residents to go greener is one of the reasons Sagewell opted to run its thermal imaging program in Needham, Harkavy said.

“We wanted to go into communities where there’s kind of an ecosystem we can work with,” he said. “We’ve done this in about 25 communities around Boston, so we we’re kind of spiraling out from the city.”

As a business, Sagewell Inc. works as a sort of referral engine. Along with getting the assessment process started, the company works with the homeowner to connect them with approved vendors who can help them make the improvements.

“We try really hard to be the advocate for the homeowner,” Harkavy said.

The company is also planning to do a door-to-door campaign in Needham neighborhoods to spread the word about the available images and in-home assessments.

For more information about Sagewell and its services, Needham residents can visit sagewell.com or call 617-963-8141.

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