Starting today, Jan. 1, the High Country Conservation Center will launch Energy Smart Colorado, a new program related to energy efficiency. The program focuses on providing energy audits for residential buildings, then follows up with potential rebates for energy-related improvements.
Energy Smart Colorado, while new to Summit County, got its start in Eagle and Gunnison counties three years ago, with groups like the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. It was through them that HC3 heard of the program, and after witnessing its success, decided to bring it to Summit. Although the program shares the same name and energy-saving mission across its four participating counties, each program is locally supported and funded. Support for Summit County’s program comes mainly from Summit County Government and the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco.
Energy Smart Colorado focuses primarily on residential buildings, not businesses. HC3 currently has an energy-savings program in place for local businesses in Frisco, Breckenridge and Silverthorne.
“The program benefits residents, energy auditors and local contractors,” HC3 executive director Jennifer Schenk wrote in an email. “Energy efficiency programs encourage homeowners to save money, and that money is often invested in the local economy. In contrast, money spent on power bills leaves the community at the rate of 80 cents on the dollar. The Energy Smart program also benefits local energy auditors and contractors performing the energy improvements on residents’ homes.”
How it works
The average energy audit takes anywhere from two to four hours to complete, according to HC3 energy operations manager Kevin Berg. During that time, the auditors use a number of tools to inspect a home’s energy efficiency, including evaluating mechanical systems, electrical loads (from appliances and lighting), insulation and air leakage.
Once the energy audit is complete, the auditor will fill out an evaluation form, which will include recommendations for how the homeowner can update the house to increase energy efficiency. Updates could include things like boiler or furnace replacement, crawlspace or basement improvement, wall and attic insulation or window replacement and air sealing. From there, homeowners can decide whether they’re willing to make those changes.
The main factors that prohibit homeowners from taking action after an audit, Berg said, are the cost of improvements and not knowing how to find or choose contractors to make those changes. HC3’s Energy Smart program tackles both of those conundrums.
Homeowners may already be eligible for energy-related rebates after audits by Xcel Energy. In addition to those, Energy Smart Colorado offers rebates for 50 percent of all changes, up to $200.
Those who have had an energy audit during the 2013 calendar year may also be eligible for the Energy Smart Colorado rebate, so long as any related improvements are done from Jan. 1, 2014, and onward.
Education is an important factor in the energy program, and HC3 is ready to step in and assist homeowners in, first, understanding exactly what all those pages of their energy audit mean, and second, who to contact to make improvements. That job falls to Berg and energy programs coordinator Marty James.
“Our job is coaching (homeowners) and looking at their priorities and opportunities to improve, looking at the costs and advising them what direction they could take to get their best savings and best comfort, and guiding them towards contractors that are under this program,” Berg said.
Berg and James will be on hand to analyze the audit results with the homeowner, then put them in touch with contractors who can make the improvements.
HC3 plans to offer training programs throughout the year to local contractors in the building science field. HC3 hopes to foster connections among the contractors as well. For example, if during a boiler installation the contractor notices issues with installation, he can mention that to the homeowner and even recommend another local business who can help out.
“It’s getting the interconnectivity of the contractors to understand each one’s profession to really promote one another,” said Berg.
Having HC3 energy experts look over the audit should also help homeowners feel they’re getting the best advice “without the sales pitch,” he added.
“I think we lend some credibility in that regard. People trust us; it’s a third party objective view.”
Berg and HC3 hope to meet their goal of at least 120 audits and 50 improvements during the program’s first year. They’re positive that homeowners, local contractors and auditors, and the environment will quickly notice benefits. Schenk estimated that over the next two years, the Energy Smart Colorado program would help homeowners save more than $70,000 in power bills, and reduce carbon emissions by more than 600,000 pounds.
“We want people to save energy, save money and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Berg said.