Transcript – Episode 71

Narrator: This podcast is a project of the Mass. Cultural Council. We believe in the power of culture, the arts, humanities, and sciences to enrich communities, advance equity, and foster creativity.

John Majercak: Any of these jobs, whether it’s a historical preservation work, or just a normal run of the mill building, if you can combine doing the energy efficiency work at the same time you’re doing other things you need to do structurally, just general maintenance of a building, if you can combine them at the same time, there’s often more bang for your buck.

Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker at the Mass. Cultural Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is John Majercak. He is the President of the Center for EcoTechnology, and welcome to our program.

John Majercak: Thanks for having me.

Anita Walker: I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the Center and I thought, “I am in one of the greatest home repair renovation stores on the planet.” For people who are not familiar with the Center, tell us about it.

John Majercak: Sure, so we help people in businesses save energy and reduce waste. We’ve been doing it for over 40 years, and you came to our EcoBuilding Bargain Store which is the largest used building store in New England, and I think you were there the day that Kevin O’Connor from This Old House was there, so that was even more fun, but that operation helps recover used cabinets, such and other things, doors, windows, it’s like a mini Home Depot, and then anyone can come shop there. It keeps the stuff out of the landfill and it saves a whole bunch of money for all the shoppers. We also do energy audits in people’s homes and businesses, and help people go solar, and help set up food waste composting programs, so we’ve done a lot of work with businesses and non-profits to help them green their operations.

Anita Walker: You know, there’s a lot of really good and powerful reasons to go green. I was listening to, actually public radio on the way here, and we’re talking about 15 years between now and 15 years that we’re going to be having some coastal cities really feeling like they’re under water with rising seas. So there’s a lot of good imperatives around going green, but saving money often gets people’s attention. Is it real money?

John Majercak: Yeah, it’s real money. Well, the building that you were in in Springfield, that’s a 100 year old warehouse which had– when we bought it, it had no insulation, a huge old oil boiler, and the guy that had owned the building before us– it had four oil tanks in the basement, huge oil tanks, and he said he bought the building, he filled up the four tanks, he turned on the heat, he ran out of oil in three days, and he never turned the heat on again. It was a furniture warehouse and they worked in the cold all year round because it was just too expensive to heat. After we were done with everything that we did to it, the gas company came out the next winter to check the meters because they thought the meters must not be working right, because we were using such little amount of energy.

Anita Walker: So what did you do? How did you do that?

John Majercak: Well, we did a huge amount of insulation all around the building and then put in a very high-efficiency heating systems and then put solar panels on the roof. So we did a lot, like, you don’t have to start doing– we did a complete retrofit, you can do it in steps, too, but the way we did it, it now uses 88 percent less energy than a building would normally use for that size, so you can imagine we’re saving many many tens of thousands of dollars a year on our electric and heat bill, and that adds up.

Anita Walker: How long does it usually take to recoup the cost of greening your building through the savings?

John Majercak: That’s a good question. It depends. There’s some low-hanging fruit, where there’s a utility program that has an incentive for you, or something like that to do something. That could just be a couple of years. The project we did, it’s a longer pay-back but we also got lots of grant funds and had a capital campaign which helps support that work, and so, you know, if you’re an arts organization– we’re obviously an environmental organization that does education and things like that, but if you’re an arts organization, and your constituents– there’s a subset of them that really care about the environment, too, and they can fund part of your renovation, well then the payback becomes less of an issue. If they know it’s going to help you on an operating basis every year be able to, you know, afford to stay in business and do your main mission.

Anita Walker: I think of a lot of our cultural organizations that we partner with here in the Commonwealth, and it seems to me that one feature of a almost by definition energy inefficient building is large, open spaces with high ceilings, so I’m thinking theaters, I’m thinking museums. I mean these have got to be one of the most challenging types of physical plant to take care of in an efficient way with the use of energy.

John Majercak: Yeah it’s very true, and our warehouse as you know is the same way. We have 20 foot high ceilings, and so those technologies without getting too technical called radiant heating where it’s basically like a big toaster up in the ceiling and it could be powered by gas or by electricity or by other things, and it heats up the occupants in the room as opposed to heating the air. So if you have a traditional systems that’s trying to heat the air, that’s a lot of air to keep warm, and also all the hot air rises, so if you have a very– you know, if you’re in the balcony, awesome, it’s 150 degrees, you know? But if you’re down below it’s a lot colder. Radiant heat does a better job of heating the occupants, and there’s also very large fans, and actually they have funny names that I can’t say on the radio, but it’s big something fans, and they’re just these huge fans that turn very, very slowly, and they push the heat back down to where the people are. So there’s lots of technologies you can use, and you know, depending on where you are, your utility company should have a program for you that you can go through to get advice on this as well as some incentives to put them in.

Anita Walker: What about historic properties? There’s another category of organization that we work with that is very, very careful about maintaining the historic fabric and the original design of– whether it’s a historic house or a historic building, and they’re very, very worried about introducing energy solutions that might detract from the original way the building was built.

John Majercak: Well yeah, that’s very true, I mean our building people– our Springfield building, people used to joke that even an engineer could make it look good because it was sort of a mishmash of a whole bunch of different old non-historic and non-preservation worthy attributes, but– so we just were able to cover it up and do some things that made it super easy, but for historic buildings it is a lot more challenging, and you sometimes have to do things only on the inside of the building in order to preserve the character, but there are ways to do it, and there’s certainly some– there’s some models out there where very attractive historically accurate things can be done to buildings to still improve– you’re somewhat limited, your hands are tied, but there are things you can do– and any of these jobs, whether it’s a historical preservation work, or just a normal run of the mill building, if you can combine doing the energy efficiency work at the same time you’re doing other things you need to do structurally or re-pointing, or– there’s, you know, just general maintenance of the building, if you can combine them at the same time, there’s often more bang for your buck if you plan it correctly than trying to go in after and do it all over again.

Anita Walker: You know it’s interesting– speaking of historic buildings, some of them actually offer good ideas for modern buildings. Some of the old 17th century buildings with the smaller windows and the thicker walls, and the orientation of the windows was really a strategy before there was gas, heat, and…

John Majercak: Air conditioning, yes.

Anita Walker: …air conditioning to keep the climate up to– you know, comfortable.

John Majercak: Yeah, definitely, and also there’s a lot of daylighting, like in some of the old mill spaces that you might find that different groups will go into, there’s really beautiful daylighting from the ceiling and also from the windows that were put in, because there wasn’t a lot of electric light available, so there are things that you can take advantage of when you do the energy efficiency, but there’s also– you know, depending on what’s in the building, there may be very strict requirements around humidity and other things that you have to control and so those systems for ventilation are going to just– they’re going to cost some money that you do for other reasons just besides energy efficiency.

Anita Walker: You know, we talked a little about energy equipment, you know, the five-star rating and the discounts you can get. I’m thinking about one of our cultural organizations that moved into a beautiful high-ceiling former bank building, and then discovered that, you know, $40,000 a month utility bills was way more than they could cope with, and so part of their way of addressing it was not just the energy efficient equipment, but when it’s on, because in a lot of our cultural organizations, there are certainly periods of time when people aren’t there.

John Majercak: Yeah, and that’s true, and there’s a lot of controls that are available now that can really help your building be a lot smarter and you can even control things remotely, and these energy management systems as their called, they’re not inexpensive necessarily, but the cost of the technology is coming down, and for any building that has– like a venue or something like that, that has very different uses depending on what’s going on or not going on, that would be really valuable to invest in, and there’s companies that are specializing in those kind of technologies that could help them.

Anita Walker: So if some of our non-profits are listening right now, some of our cultural nerds out there, and they wanted to just sort of start a little checklist, what do you recommend? How do they get started to think about greening their building?

John Majercak: Yeah, so the first– I would always start with energy efficiency because that is almost always the quickest payback and then anything you do on top of that will be easier, so before you go out and buy a new high efficiency heating system, or put solar panels on your roof, see if there’s insulation you can do, and go into or calling up the Mass Save program is a good place to start there. Once you’ve done that then I think looking at new heating systems and other technologies is good as well as solar. Solar is a very good deal. You can get a lot of elec– if you have a roof that’s in good shape or you have a parking lot, you know, you have to have some space to put the panels, but as soon as you have them, it’s a great deal, and the panels on our roof, because we’re a non-profit also, there’s some tax incentives that you can’t take advantage of as a non-profit that you can as a for-profit, but there’s lots of solar companies that will own the panels for you, you lease your roof to them, and you essentially buy the electricity back, and it’s sort of a not super complicated financial arrangement, but it’s very common in the solar world, and it helps non-profits be able to take care of– take advantage of solar, and there’s even an organization called Power Options, it’s a non-profit organization in Massachusetts that is set up to help non-profits figure out how to go solar, and also to buy energy collectively so they can save on their energy bills. Their website is, which would be another good place to go. And then after you get all the energy stuff done, and/or before, the other thing you can work on is recycling. So there’s a program that we run called Recycling Works in Massachusetts. It’s a statewide program, and we can help any business or non-profit figure out what it can recycle and where the markets are, and also recycling at events, which is getting more popular and sets a nice example. If you have a whole bunch of your constituents coming to an event and you do a recycling or food waste reduction kind of a thing and have lots of signs and educate people about it, it’s actually a fairly popular thing, and I think even for the average arts organization, other– you know, their people would care about the fact that they were doing that, and we can help people learn how to do that.

Anita Walker: You know, actually sort of wearing energy efficiency and the greening of your organization as a badge is not a bad thing as you mention as fundraising. I remember I was in Provincetown Art Associate Museum, in their restroom, and they have a sign that says, “After you wash your hands, if you shake them nine times in the sink, you will only need to use one paper towel.” I thought, “That’s impressive.”

John Majercak: Yeah, and people- and people I think in general like– they all w– like, most people want to do something for the environment, but it’s kind of tricky to know what to do, and if signage or education that happens at these facilities explains to people how– what it is that the facility is doing and how people can participate, I think that does– it makes people feel good about themselves and their experience at the facility, and it just gives them one more reason to want to come back and to love being there, so that’s a great- that’s a great story.

Anita Walker: Well thank you. Great tips, good advice, and one more reason to support our non-profits, John Majercak, President of the Center for EcoTechnology. Another one of our Creative Minds Out Loud.

John Majercak: Thanks so much for having me.

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