How to lessen your home’s contribution to climate change

Engineer Marc Rosenbaum shares tips and strategies.

Marc Rosenbaum, an engineer at South Mountain, said choosing skilled engineers, architects, and tradesmen is half the battle when updating a building's energy efficiency. — Brittany Bowker

The ICAN Climate Solutions library series continued Tuesday with a talk led by South Mountain engineer Marc Rosenbaum: “Beyond fossil-fuel homes.” 

Rosenhaum, armed with more than 30 years of experience, is committed to making homes more energy-efficient, comfortable, durable, and healthy. He offered tips to a packed room at the West Tisbury library on how to lessen a home’s contribution to climate change. 

First, Rosenbaum encouraged the community to fix what we have, rather than building from scratch: “Most of the buildings we’re going to be using by 2050 are already here. We might as well fix the ones we have.” 

Fossil-fuel emissions in a home generally stem from burning oil or gas for heat, and using electricity generated from coal, propane, and oil. Home heaters, AC units, water heaters, kitchen appliances, and dryers are all high-carbon-footprint culprits. Decarbonization strategies include better insulation, and more energy-efficient heating, cooling, ventilation, and refrigeration systems.

Upgrading mechanical system

Many homes have dated mechanical systems with uninsulated pipes and ducts, with boilers situated outside or in the attic. “Part of those systems actually put heat outside,” Rosenbaum said. Better-insulated ducts located inside a heated part of the building are one way to save energy. Rosenbaum also suggested installing better controls for heating systems, and the promise of electric heat pumps and cold-climate heat pumps. He compared cold-climate heat pumps to a fancy refrigerator: “But instead of moving energy from hot to cold, you’re moving energy from cold to hot.”

Heat pumps are reversible, and are able to heat a house in the winter and cool it in the summer. “In the winter, they take heat out from the outdoor air and put it into the house. In the summer, heat pumps take heat out of the house and dump it outside,” Rosenbaum said. 

The “off switch” is another potent strategy, one that not only saves energy, but money. At the Plainfield School in New Hampshire, where Rosenbaum spearheaded a project that saved a school energy and money, he touched on how turning off the boiler in the summer saves money and energy — as does turning off commercial appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators when they’re not in use. 

“You just have to pay attention,” Rosenbaum said. “You don’t have to have advanced degrees to find the off switch.”

Generating secondary sources of renewable energy onsite through solar panels is another recommended strategy. Rosenbaum commented on the power of a greener grid: “If Vineyard Wind gets past the Trump administration, that project will have enough juice for a sixth of the whole state,” Rosenbaum said. “The grid gets greener every year as coal plants go offline and clean air comes online.” 

Improving thermal insulation

Many Island homes are leaky, and upgrading a building’s enclosure is one way to save energy. Weatherization and deep energy retrofit are two key strategies. 

Basement crawl spaces, attics, and knee walls are areas where many homes lose energy. Rosenbaum said it’s important to insulate these spaces, and explained a process of depressurizing them using a blower (a big calibrated fan) that shows how many cubic feet of air is distributed per minute, and then using an infrared scanner to see where air comes in. 

“There could be plenty of insulation, but that doesn’t mean [the room] isn’t getting energy from the house,” Rosenbaum said. “Air leaking from the house to the attic is called thermal bypass, so we’re trying to seal that.” Foam insulation and gunfoam can seal the leaky spaces. 

Deep energy retrofits are also an option for bringing homes up to more efficient energy standards. Rosenbaum said this process costs a lot of money, but can be a good fit for some homes, especially ones that are relatively simple in design and are already suffering significant structural deficiencies. 

The Plainfield School in New Hampshire is an example of a successful deep energy retrofit, done in a series of stages over the course of 10 years. 

“Beyond Fossil Fuel Homes” was the fourth in a series of six monthly talks hosted at Island libraries, presented by the Island Climate Action Network. The full talk is available on MVTV.



  1. You will make a local contribution but you will be overwhelmed with the scale of CO2 emissions coming from India and China who are still building coal plants. You will be wasting your money. You might feel better but making no change. You can contain the island with seawall berms and changing zoning for building permits and maybe beach replenishment, but sealing leaky homes does nothing. Stop with the paper straws and car idling its insignificant and is drowned out by significant CO2 emissions elsewhere.

  2. Andrew– you know that the talking points about India and China being the problem are bogus at best.
    Citizens of the United States are far and away the worlds worst polluters. You know it, I know it, anyone who gives it even a glancing honest look knows it. The willful ignorance and down right dishonesty that form your narrative is truly deplorable.
    Your continuing efforts to always blame “others” does not absolve us of the guilt.
    Some of us at least care a little and try to do what we can.
    Shame on you for belittling the efforts of honest hard working Americans. Shame on you.

  3. dondondon. We are not talking per capita polluters. We are talking greatest net pollution and China is by far. That is a fact and your denying it here on this post is shameful. I am not belittling anyone but simply saying it is a waste of time and money to do these little errands around the house when the house is being burned down by a huge fire. Are you going to put up an umbrella in your backyard to protect the roses when a grade 4 hurricane is coming to town.? Continue to use words like shame and deplorable and blame which have nothing to do with the issue being discussed. It would be similar to you betting 1000 dollars that the Senate will remove Trump when you know it wont happen. Why waste that money?

  4. Andrew– First— You can look at comments I have made here. I have never denied that China is the worlds largest polluter. Quite the contrary , I have clearly stated it, and documented it . I Have repeatedly asked you not to lie about what I have said— your statement that I deny China is the worlds largest polluter is a lie. And you know it. Shame on you for lying about what I say.
    Second–you mention India in your first comment. Do you care to defend that part of your statement ?
    Particularly in regards to coal. India burns 8 % of the world’s coal, the United States burns 13.5 %.
    Yup, the U.S. burns 70 % more coal that India does– total burning– nor per capita..

    You may think that the fact that India has nearly a billion more people than we do is irrelevant, but that is only because you have a dissonance to anyone or anything that disproves your ideologically based opinion of the world.
    Anyone that has even a little grounding in reality can accept the fact that the size of a population matters. For instance– the United States, for the last 3 years, has recorded nearly 40,000 automobile deaths per year, while Jamaica averages about 300 per year. I don’t know if you have ever driven in Jamaica, but by your rationale, the roads in Jamaica are thousands of times safer than ours.
    But back to India– I have, in the past, on this forum, pointed out total carbon emissions of both the U.S.
    and India– The United States emits more than double the total carbon emissions that India does.
    Can I repeat that, Andrew ?????– The United States emits more than double the total carbon emissions that India does. TOTAL– not per capita.
    The fact is, that the United States releases more carbon emissions than approximately 120 countries combined. And , let me repeat it again, more than double what India does.
    If I were from India , I would be offended on more than one level by your shameful misrepresentation.

    I may not take bets on the senate, but I will give 10 to one odds that 2020 will be one of the 10 warmest recorded in modern history.

  5. Full disclosure; I did not witness the Presentation. Just thought I would share a basic meme/ principal regarding how to best further the implementation of energy efficiency/conservation. Lead with economics. Find solutions that are economically advantageous to people. This is a basic understanding proferred from the crunchiest of the green people. For instance when they are putting forward implementation of solar… They say to sell it on economics and the green will follow! This makes it self directing and self propagating. So when you offer higher insulation values and remediation of “bypass” you should just bring it to a level where the savings outweigh the expense of the installation. Forget about perfect solutions. The idea that perfection is the enemy of the good. When we do do things this way we live a lot undone but… It actually has the highest by far impact. I have concentrated my efforts on making solar systems for residential homes affordable/profitable for the homeowners. According to a common carbon offset chart; my efforts combined with the efforts of the homeowners have had the combined effect of the sequestering of the land and planting and nurturing of 168,000 trees to 30 years maturity! Not blowing my horn… Just giving a real-world example. Yes the problem is bigger than that and bigger than us, anyone of us alone or even together… However… How can you propose anything to anyone and yet not set the same example in your own life? And action begets action and great things do happen, these are facts, start a ball rolling maybe it Peters out and falls apart or maybe it snowballs and creates an avalanche. This world and society today and history shows that avalanches happen! Odds and statistics are defeated every day. Great things do happen. And many times it happened because they must. Things that never should have happened do happen… And often because something just had to happen! I really do wish you all great things in order for that to possibly happen we must try for great things. Interesting times we live in so funny to think we could actually be living in “end times”. Amazing to think. There sure is a lot of indicators that did not exist just a short time ago. Hold on, strive.

  6. Also didn’t know my name would come up.. I mean that it’s fine with me but,I must figure out to create a moniker otherwise everything will just look like I’m trying to self promote. I am really about widening the implementation of solar. And if it appears that I am self-promoting than I am defeating the larger and more important interest. So once I figured out you will not see posts under my name anymore. Apologies

  7. dondondon. You must stay on point. I am not even arguing with you on CO2. I am simply saying all these little things you are doing around the house to assuage ones guilt dont amount to anything considering the overwhelming scale of CO2 emissions from China and India and yes the US. Now your buddy Eliz Warren is telling us she will have a 9 yer old transgender pick her Secretary of State. Did you see that or am I lying again.

    • Andrew– you tell me to stay on point while discussing an article about co2 emissions ( I know, they never mention co2 in the article) And then you go off about Elizabeth Warren on who will pick her “secretary of state”. How far off point can you get ? Stay on point !
      And yes Andrew, you in fact are lying again. Twice in one sentence to be exact. Impressive.. you are a being a good disciple for trump.
      Lie # 1) She was talking about her secretary of education, no mention of secretary of state.
      Lie # 2) She would have a 9 year old interview and approve her choice, the 9 year old would not “pick” who would be nominated for the job.
      If you need a little clarification about the difference between “picking” some one and approving someone, just look to justice Kavanaugh. Did Moscow Mitch pick him, or did trump ?
      Also , another healthy baby step for you to admit that the United States actually emits co 2 .

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