Sustainability in the Home | SummitDaily.com

Sustainability in the Home

Special to the daily: Kim Fuller

If you are about to renovate your kitchen, you may want to look into upgrading your attic or basement first. "A lot of people are more likely to upgrade their kitchen than upgrade their crawlspace, 'cause that's what people see," said Marty James Johnson, energy programs coordinator for High Country Conservation Center, an environmentally-focused nonprofit based in Frisco. "But if you really want to have an impact in reducing your carbon footprint, you want to focus on your attic and your crawlspace."

Mountain homes experience a lot of what is called the "stack effect" — if they have a leaky crawlspace, attic or basement, air gets sucked in down low and air also leaks out up top.

"We always recommend air sealing," Johnson said, "sealing up any penetrations in a house. With an audit, we can see exactly were those leaks are happening."

High Country Conservation Center provides a service called an energy audit, which tells people exactly what they can do to improve energy efficiency in a home.

The energy audit program, called Energy Smart Colorado, is typically around $99. Partnering with the nonprofit Energy Outreach Colorado, the service gives people a comprehensive report of a home's energy performance, including how much air is leaking in a house, the output of appliances and lighting, waste and cleaning supplies in the home and even behavioral aspects like transportation to and from a home.

This year, High Country Conservation Center is holding the first annual Summit County Green Off. Homeowners can sign up for free online, and they get a free energy audit and sustainability assessment. Participants need to be full-time Summit County residents and ideally in a home of two people or more. Participants will be announced on Earth Day, Friday, April 22, and then they have six months to go through an energy-saving process in their homes, with coaching from High Country Conservation Center. Prizes for "most improved," "greenest home" and "most energy saving" will be awarded in September 2016.

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Karen Wray, design coordinator for Mountain Log Homes and Interiors, said typical log homes have low home energy rating scores — in the low to mid 50s, with 100 being code-built homes.

"If we have a score of 56, we are 46 percent more efficient than a code-built home," she said. "Like golf, the lower the score, the better. In Colorado, you can get a rebate from the state if you achieve a score under 50."

Mountain Log Homes and Interiors has won the Energy Excellence award during the Summit County Parade of Homes twice for the most efficient home. Some of the measures they take on a consistent basis include: low-e (low emissivity) windows with proper flashing, insulation and caulking; spray foam insulation or structurally insulated panels in the ceiling or roof; insulated concrete form foundations; under-slab insulation; and solar homes that allow clients to "net meter," or sell back their excess power produced to Xcel Energy.

Green Your Home

Johnson recommends small and big actions for creating more energy efficiency in the home. To begin, start composting your food waste. Summit County has a food compost drop-off program, so sign up and take all your food waste to one of the drop-off centers.

"It goes up to our Summit Country Resource Allocation Park, where our industrial compost facili-ty is located," she said, "and it gets turned into wonderful soil that people can buy and put on their gardens and landscaping."

If you're not already recycling, start. The recycling in Summit County can be a little confusing, so be aware of what is recyclable and what's not. It depends on who picks up your recycling, so make an effort to improve the process.

Do small things inside the home to improve energy efficiency. Install a programmable thermostat so it drops the heat when you're not home. Install LED bulbs. Check what your hot water temperature is — Johnson said a lot of people keep it at 130 or 140 degrees, but you can turn it down to 120. Another simple step to take is to insulate your hot water heater tank.

Bigger steps can also be taken. Johnson recommends that everyone get an energy audit for their home to see what changes they can make to improve efficiency. If you can spend the money, seal air penetrations and add insulation to a crawlspace or an attic.

Upgrade appliances to Energy Star models, when possible.

"Refrigerators and washer and dryers are the high-energy use appliances, so if you can afford to upgrade those to Energy Star, we definitely recommend that," Johnson said. "Once you do those upgrades and you get your house as tight as possible, then we would recommend installing solar if your can afford that."

Residents can also buy shares in community solar gardens or buy credits from wind energy like Arcadia Power.

For anyone thinking of "going off the grid," Johnson said longer commutes from outlying communities can often mean more driving, which is not energy efficient.

"There's kind of an allure to living off the grid," she added, "but I think you can be just as sustainable being on the grid."

For more information on the Green Off and to register, visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org/green-off/