Dressing your home for winter weather

Elizabeth Miller | Boulder Weekly

EnergySmart  wants you to bundle up this winter. No, not with a coat and gloves. EnergySmart is running energy audits around the county, and advisors have found Boulder homes consistently under-dressed for the winter — in spots that surprise some homeowners.

Boulder homes aren’t alone. Department of Energy officials estimate that more than 60 percent of all U.S. homes are un- or under-insulated — even some built in the past 10 years. This year, EnergySmart is working to help homes and businesses in the county stay warm by providing energy advisors who work on their energy assessments, then help prioritize projects, complete forms for rebates and review bids from contractors.

“We were starting to see that homeowners were getting energy audits and starting to have like Xcel and other independent contractors do energy assessments of their homes, but then they’d get the report and just kind of be left hanging on ‘What do we do next’ and ‘How do I coordinate contractors’ and ‘What rebates are available,’” says Dave Penzkover, a senior advisor for the team of energy advisors from Populus Sustainable Design Consulting working with EnergySmart.

The response from the people he’s worked with on the program has been overwhelmingly positive, he says.

“I probably could have done this all on my own, but it would have taken a lot longer,” says Kathy Denault, a former EnergySmart participant, in a testimonial collected by EnergySmart.

“We constantly talk about recommending the lowest cost upgrades for the most benefit to the homeowner,” Penzkover says, “and that’s typically with insulation and air-sealing.”

A lot of homeowners expect to need to replace their windows, he says, but usually improving the air sealing around them makes enough difference. Better insulation and air-sealing can provide a relatively quick return on the investment, compared to replacing windows or installing solar panels, Penzkover says.

More than 2,800 residents and 700 businesses have benefited from EnergySmart services to date, according to Beth Beckel, Boulder County’s energy efficiency and sustainability specialist. Their target is to reach 10,000 homes and 3,000 businesses before federal funding for the program runs out in May 2013.

“Every person that signs up will at least be saving a little bit of energy at the end,” Beckel says. “The ideal is to get as many of those people through the program to some sort of upgrade, but we recognize not everybody is going to be in a position that they’re financially ready to do that.”

EnergySmart starts with a technical home energy assessment to help pinpoint hidden leaks and energy wasters. For $120, the Energy Advisor helps start cutting waste with a comprehensive energy assessment, in addition to installing free energy-saving light bulbs, showerheads and water pipe insulation. Those already set on a project can get rebate assistance and quick installs for $30. Those who have an audit report from the past three years receive the energy advisor service free.

“It seemed like a good investment for $120,” says Joe Roberts, another EnergySmart participant, in a testimonial collected by EnergySmart. “I was wrong … It was worth five to 10 times that cost.”

EnergySmart also offers rebates, as well as “microloans” for $500 to $5,000 at 2.5 percent interest.

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