Greenovate’s Community Voices blog series spotlights community members who help make our city greener, healthier, and more energy efficient. In our first edition, we meet East Boston resident Patricia Cortes Duran – who made her home more comfortable and energy efficient with the help of the City’s Renew Bostonprogram
It was only 8:30 in the morning when I got off the blue line at Maverick station in East Boston, but already very hot and humid. Resisting the iced coffee at La Sultana bakery, I headed up the sloping hill of Meridian Avenue toward the Eagle Hill neighborhood. I passed Salvadoran markets, children enjoying the last days of summer, and red, yellow, and blue Colombian flags. By the time I reached the top, I was sweating. I was about to sit down to cool off when Patricia Cortes Duran called my name. She was standing outside her three-story house waving me inside.
Stepping in from the hot sun was a huge relief. Patricia’s house was beautiful and colorful and most importantly – cool. She handed me a glass of water and asked me to sit down at the kitchen table with her and her friend Dinora. I told her how nice it was to be in the air conditioning. “Oh, the air conditioning is not on! Since we got our house insulated all we have to do is open the windows.”
I had gone to hear about her experience with Renew Boston, the City’s home energy efficiency program. Renew Boston connects local renters, landlords, and homeowners with incentives and rebates for improving energy efficiency through Mass Save. Patricia told me how she got involved with the program in 2012, and what life has been like in the years since then.
Taking the first steps toward energy efficiency
“When I bought this house, I didn’t know anything about houses!” she said with a laugh. “I thought all houses had insulation – so I assumed this one did, too. It was freezing in the winter, but I figured that was just the way it was in Boston. Our house is up on this big hill, and the wind whips through. I thought there was nothing we could really do about it.”
“Then one day, an electrician came in to fix an outlet for me. He said, ‘do you know there is no insulation in your walls?’”
“I said, ‘That would explain why it’s so cold in here!’ And I decided to look into insulation.”
Adjusting to a new climate
The extreme weather fluctuations we experience in Boston are not common in Patricia’s native Colombia. After leaving Colombia, she lived in Brighton and Natick before settling into her home on the hill in East Boston in 2004.
“I love East Boston,” she said. “First, it’s convenient. It’s easy for me to get to my job doing accounting for a church in Chelsea. But most importantly, we’re friends with our neighbors. We’re never far from any of our friends around here. They’re like my family. If you need something, you knock on your neighbor’s door and you borrow what you need.”
When asked if she’d recommend Renew Boston to her neighbors, Patricia’s answer is a strong yes.
“People should know about the program. Lots of my friends around here live in older houses. Lots of them are renters. I know Renew Boston has resources for owners, and renters, too – it could help them! I’m a living testament to the program. Not only is my home so much more comfortable now, but I’m saving so much on my utility bills. It’s a no brainer for me!”
“One [insulation] company quoted me twelve thousand dollars to insulate the house. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money. I can’t do that.’ So I tried to do it myself. My sister-in-law and I rented one of those insulation machines, and dragged it up to the attic. It was hard work, and it helped a bit, but it was still cold in the winter.”
“Then one day I found this flyer in my utility bills. It said that a program called Renew Boston could help me make my home more comfortable and help me to save money. I decided to give it a shot. I called, they came, and they did a home energy assessment at my house. They changed out my light bulbs to more efficient LED’s that day. They came back later that month to pick up where my sister-in-law and I had left off with the insulation. They did the entire first and second floors.”
Finally comfortable at home
“Since then it’s been so much better. Before that, we couldn’t sit down for dinner together in the kitchen. We’d come down to grab something and then run back upstairs again – it was that cold! When people came over to visit, they’d keep their coats on.”
“Our pipes used to freeze all the time. They would burst and ruin our floor. Since we insulated, no pipes have burst. One time the pipes under the kitchen sink froze, but it’s not a problem like it was before.”
“And in the summer it’s better, too! You could tell when you walked in, couldn’t you? We don’t even need the AC. We just open the windows and it stays cool. And my utilities? I’m paying less than half of what I was before. My house is more efficient so I’m paying less to make my home more comfortable.”
How to get involved with Renew Boston
Renters, landlords, and property owners alike can request a home energy assessment through Renew Boston. Renew Boston will also be hosting several community workshops this fall – including one in Dorchester on September 19th. Check back with the Greenovate Community Calendar to stay up-to-date on ways to get started making your home more energy efficient!