Mayor George Hansel
June 30, 2020 • Mayor George Hansel shares how and why he and his employer made energy efficiency upgrades to their residential rental properties in Keene.
"I see sustainability and working towards being on the cutting edge of green building and energy efficiency, it's going to help us attract the workforce that we want in the future. It's going to help us attract the companies that are consistent and fit in well with the companies that are here now."
Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is George Hansel. I'm the mayor of Keene, New Hampshire. I'm also a vice president at Filtrine manufacturing here in Keene.
Thank you. In addition to your work with Filtrine and in addition to being the mayor, I understand that you're also a landlord and have some properties.
We have several houses on the west side of Keene and I have a multi-family house that I happen to live in and rent part of it out to two tenants.
For folks who might not know, do you, the landlord, pay for renters utilities, or does the renter? How does that work?
It depends. In all of our residential properties, the tenants pay the utilities. So we have split utilities, even in a multi-family house. We have separate heating systems, separate electrical meters. And the tenant is responsible for the cost of their utilities. We have commercial tenants in a 100,000 square foot facility on Kitt Street in Keene, but we pay all their utilities for that. So It just kind of depends on the specific building and what works best in that building.
Thank you. And I'm curious to know if you have made any energy efficiency or energy upgrades to any of your properties.
We have. The company recently renovated the residential properties to modern standards, installed solar panels at solar installation at one of them, a ground mounted solar installation, and we put wood pellet stoves in two of the properties as well.
I guess I want to get back to this idea of the split incentive. Renters pay their electricity bills, but they wouldn't be the ones to buy their appliances, right? And so there might not be an incentive for a landlord to buy new appliances that are more energy efficient. You have made these decisions to make the upgrades. I'm curious to know if there were any programs or rebates that were helpful to you when you were pursuing those upgrades?
The New Hampshire Saves Program through the utility company--we've used that a couple of times. They're older houses, you know, built in the 70s. And they really hadn't been upgraded much since then. And so we used the New Hampshire Saves program to install a lot of insulation, do some weatherization on the building envelope. And we also utilized a couple of manufacturers’ rebates for installing the wood pellet boilers, and we had some incentives for doing the ground mounted solar array.
Would you mind describing New Hampshire Saves for anyone who might not know what it is?
New Hampshire Saves is a program where the utility companies are responsible for Spending a certain amount of money every year to help people weatherize their homes. The process involves you getting a certified contractor and evaluator to come out and evaluate your home if it's an older one, and if it’s what we would call an energy gusher. The evaluator will establish that and then give you recommendations on what you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your home. They'll even perform the work and then pretty much it pays for about 50 percent of the total cost. So it's a pretty good deal. You get twice as much work for every dollar you put in.
That's great. I've also never heard of the phrase “energy gusher,” but that actually is a really good visual.
They do an evaluation blower door test where they hook a fan in your door, literally. And they analyze how much air they're able to suck out to show how leaky it is. Or they do it with an infrared piece of technology, and both are very enlightening.
So did you see the process happen?
I did. We had a blower door test and I definitely had an energy gusher. But it was drastically improved through the New Hampshire Saves Program and the work that the contractor did. And the nice thing about the program is, at the end, they have to run the test again, so you're able to really see what improvements are made and how that all translates to your wallet, how that's gonna save you money over time. These older homes just need some help when it comes to energy efficiency. They didn't always build for energy efficiency like we do today. And sometimes these houses can have great bones. And with a little bit of work, you can really bring them up to modern standards.
Q: Thanks for that. I'm curious if you've done the math to think about how much money you've saved by participating in those incentive programs.
We do. I haven't calculated it for all the properties there but there is a significant savings. We try to shoot for, you know, a five or six year payback or less on any investments we make. You know, these aren't projects that take a decade or more to repay for themselves. They do make a difference. And they make a difference relatively quickly, especially now with some of the incentives that are available.
What are some challenges for landlords when it comes to doing energy upgrades or energy efficiency upgrades based on what you've seen?
Well, I'll tell you what's made it easier for me. I've lived in or worked in all of the properties that we own at some point. So I was personally invested in these buildings. I understand them. I lived in them. I had to deal with them. It makes investing in them personal for me. If it was just a property that I owned and I had very little interaction with, that would probably be a bit different. I think the personal investment of the owner is critical. Otherwise you're just relying on their goodwill and them being environmentally conscious in general. But for me, it's about the sense of place. I love these properties. I love this community and Keene and want to see it improved. That's what drives me to make these investments. We're not just making our living out of these things. We're really using them.
What are your hopes or visions for the future of Keene when it comes to questions about sustainability?
I want Keene to be a relevant community, not just relevant in New Hampshire, not just relevant in New England, but relevant across the country and even the world. And I think we have a history of doing that in a lot of different areas. We have a really storied history in the arts, we have some nationally and internationally relevant companies that call Keene home. We are the perfect size to experiment with new things without requiring a tremendous investment. We're sort of the small startup of city size. And we can do some really innovative things. And if we don't take advantage of that, not only is it not going to be as fun to live here, but we'll be missing out. We have a very special community and a lot of potential, and so I see sustainability and working towards being on the cutting edge of green building and energy efficiency. It's going to help us attract the workforce that we want in the future. It's going to help us attract the companies that are consistent and fit in well with the companies that are here now. It helps us in a lot of ways, some of which are not totally tangible. And it comes down to culture as well. I think it's consistent with the culture here. And it'll add and enhance the culture that we currently have and put us in a position to succeed.