Energy Smart for the Future:
How Eagle, Gunnison and Pitkin Counties are helping residents
By: Maya Silver
What does the phrase “Energy Smart” mean to you? A solar array glistening in the desert sun? Samso, the Danish, wind-powered island? An environmentalist on a soapbox?
For the Colorado residents of Eagle, Gunnison and Pitkin Counties, Energy Smart means building efficiency. While a tube of caulk may not be as sexy as a solar panel, it has become, along with other energy efficiency measures, the poster child for energy savings and carbon dioxide emissions reductions.
The tri-County Energy Smart Program, funded by a Department of Energy BetterBuildings grant, makes residential energy improvements simple and affordable for homeowners.
"Energy Smart has helped us become more energy efficient...and warm!’’ says participant Kristina Herrin. “ We have already begun to take action, and now it's so helpful to have such a concise and helpful list."
Photo of Kristina and Nick Herrin
Getting started begins with a phone call (or an email or a visit) to the county’s Energy Resource Center that might sound something like this:
“Help! My bills are through the roof! My kids have asthma! We’re freezing in the winter and stifling hot in the summer! Oh, and I want to do the right thing.”
Photo of Kristina and Nick Herrin's Energy Efficient Cabin
What ensues is a streamlined, simple and affordable process. The Home Energy Advisor figuratively takes the hand of the homeowner and tells him or her that everything’s going to be okay. The advisor then schedules an energy assessment with trained Energy Smart analysts. The assessment may include a walk-through evaluation, a blower-door test, utility bill analysis, health and life safety testing and thermal imaging.
The assessment report provides the homeowner with information about how the house is performing and, more importantly, recommendations for improvement. Essentially, this boils down to a prioritized home “To Do” list. The homeowner even gets a reminder magnet featuring the top five assessment recommendations to flaunt on their fridge as a friendly reminder.
Photo: Energy analyst assessing a home
To keep the To Do list from collecting dust, the Energy Resource Center provides the tools that make taking action easy and convenient. These include:
1. Access to Information: Free consulting to homeowners, a library, a computer kiosk and take-home FAQs and resources on energy topics.
2. Access to Financing: 20% Energy Smart rebate (up to $200) for energy upgrades and renewable systems, guidance in applying for other rebates and tax credits and an Energy Smart financing program with low interest rates.
3. Access to Skilled Workforce: An Energy Smart Team of local energy analysts, contractors and clean energy system installers to deploy to program participants, an auxiliary list of other qualified building industry professionals, Energy Smart educational workshops and tuition scholarships for training opportunities.
These components are the “yeast, flour and water” necessary to cultivate a successful residential efficiency program. Of course, these ingredients also involve time and some careful massaging to allow mistakes to turn into lessons and, ultimately, improvements to the program. The process is about saving energy, reducing emissions and impacting our community, but it’s also about finding out what works. This way we can optimize and verify the effectiveness of energy upgrade work in the future.
"My energy analyst did a very good, thorough job in assessing my home,’’ says participant Bryce Appleton. “ I give him an A.’’
This is the dawn of residential efficiency programs and Energy Smart, along with all of the nation’s other budding pilot programs, are trail-blazing as we go. If that doesn’t inspire you (the words “residential efficiency” tend to have a soporific effect…), then let’s call this the dawn of a new era of thinking about and using energy differently and better.
Energy Smart isn’t just a story about home energy improvements. It is a tale of economic development – reinvesting the millions upon millions of dollars that Colorado citizens send out of their towns, counties and state for direct and indirect energy costs. Reducing that financial outpouring keeps money in people’s pockets and at home in our local communities.
At its core, Energy Smart is also solid evidence of how rural communities can come together and build something bigger and better. By partnering with our neighbors, we can leverage economy of scale, crank up our impact and bring more voices and expertise to the table. Particularly when communities share industries (e.g. tourism, recreation, agriculture) and qualities (e.g. rural, co-op utilities, climate), collaboration makes perfect sense.
One day, Energy Smart will be one of many stories about how our country charted the path to living in better buildings, sustainably powering our future.
To learn more about the Energy Smart Program, visit (http://www.energysmartcolorado.com).
Maya Silver is the Communications Director at the Office for Resource Efficiency (ORE) in Gunnison County, Colorado. She handles marketing for the Gunnison Energy Smart Program. She blogs, freelances and has a guide for teens whose parents have cancer forthcoming in 2012.