Summit County conservation group awarding free home audits, upgrades | SummitDaily.com

Summit County conservation group awarding free home audits, upgrades

The Brassanini household in Wildernest near Silverthorne was the recipient of a number of free home upgrades totaling about $5,000 through the High Country Conservation Center's energy-efficiency program. The Frisco-based conservation group still has approximately $30,000 more in funds to award for home improvements to area residents who qualify based on income.

The price of living in the mountains seems perpetually on the rise, so one area nonprofit is stepping in to hopefully lessen the burden, all while helping protect the local environment.

The High County Conservation Center (HC3) in Frisco, a leading voice in the community on waste reduction and sustainability issues, is acting as the program manager for Denver-based Energy Outreach Colorado. This home energy-centric organization assists the state's residents with keeping the heat on and ensuring those utility bills stay affordable with its CARE, or Colorado Affordable Residential Energy, initiative.

Since January, HC3 has been utilizing a $60,000 grant to spread savings and efficiency upgrades across Summit County with free home-energy audits to qualifying long-term tenants and homeowners. Nearing halfway through the funding stream, these conservation wonks are looking for more people like Wildernest resident Jen Brassanini.

The 15-year local, four of which in her home in the Woodworks complex, had heard about the program but wasn't sure she'd qualify based on income for any of HC3's improvements. After applying in April, a trained crew arrived to her townhome, and, before she knew it, they were changing all of her light bulbs to LEDs, sealing up air leaks as well as retrofitting her shower head and faucets with high-efficiency fixtures to save two precious resources — water and money.

"I'm a single mom with two small children, and costs are something I'm thinking about always," said Brassanini. "With a three-person household, that raised my income limitation, and I was able to take advantage of this service. Just having them come in, so you yourself can potentially make changes was really educational and helped me make my own priority list for my home."

The direct installs weren't it, though. After reviewing the assessment, HC3 was back to fully insulate both her attic and crawl space to prevent heat from seeping out and other fixes at a cost approaching $5,000. They then worked with the nearby Lowe's Home Improvement in Silverthorne to replace Brassanini's 17-year-old refrigerator — all at no charge.

"In the stuff they did with the green consulting and insulation improvements," she said, "it was definitely right around $4,500 alone. They did just a ton of work. There a lot of people in this community (who) could be taking advantage of this."

So far, HC3 has conducted 20 audits this year and have eight projects underway. The program prioritizes tune-ups and repairs, but, when an appliance such as a boiler, furnace or water heater can't be refurbished, a replacement may be installed.

"Really, all of this is energy focused," said Cody Jensen, HC3's energy programs manager, "because it saves people energy. But almost everything we do also looks at health and safety, air quality, how the building performs and that it is ventilated properly. And as long as you fit within the income tiers, everything is free."

The program's target group are those who are at an area median income of 80 percent, which he estimated, at the elevated mountain costs of living in Summit County, is not quite $50,000 annually for an individual. Many more are eligible than might otherwise think, so HC3 asks them to submit an application.

The local program may receive more funding next year, but it's uncertain at the moment. So, with about $30,000 remaining, year-round citizens are encouraged to get going on this first-come, first-served campaign.

"The No. 1 recommendation to Summit County residents," added Jensen, "is stopping air movement from inside to outside. Stopping air communication between conditioned air indoors and unconditioned air outdoors to reduce energy costs and make for a more comfortable home living environment."

The renovations may not have obvious impacts on the energy bills, especially because it's now summer, but, once winter and cooler temperatures roll around again, HC3 says the drop in costs can be significant. And that, really, any efficiency is a benefit to the whole region.

"There are definitely things that I, 1) didn't realize I needed to do, and 2) the financial assistance without cost to myself have allowed me to automatically realize value," said Brassanini. "Not only that, it improves the entire community and is a part of the greater good for everybody, not just my pocketbook."

To learn more about whether you qualify for the CARE program in Summit County, or to set up a home-energy audit, contact the High Country Conservation Center at (970) 668-5703. Interested parties may also sign up at HC3's upcoming LED light bulb giveaway at the Frisco Transit Center (1010 Meadow Dr., Frisco) on Friday, June 24, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.