Envelope, please

An energy-efficiency program conceived in Boulder just might convert you

Sara Wright | Boulder Weekly

Fueled by federal grant dollars and powered by a team of advisors, the EnergySmart program is proving catalytic in the way it helps people take action after receiving an energy audit.


“We’re presenting nationally on this model because of our conversion rates,” says Boulder County Sustainability Coordinator Susie Strife.

More than half of EnergySmart program participants take steps to improve their homes after receiving an energy audit, Strife says.

That’s compared to a national average of about 15 percent who make a similar conversion, according to the “Community Guide to Boulder’s Climate Action Plan 2010/2011 Progress Report.”

“We look at those who have been enrolled [inEnergySmart] at least 30 days or more and have done something,” says Andy Mazal of Populus, the sustainable design firm hired as EnergySmart’s manager. “Action is the key.”

In 2010, the Boulder County commissioners office won a $12 million grant to kick-start EnergySmart via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Program.

The Department of Energy considers buildings upgraded when they have achieved a total energy savings of 15 percent.

Even within this strict definition, EnergySmart is an emerging leader nationwide.

“With … an impressive record of helping homeowners make the decision to proceed from evaluation to upgrade, EnergySmart is among the top 10 percent of Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners in completing energy improvements,” says Department of Energy Better Buildings Neighborhood Program Manager Danielle Sass Byrnett. EnergySmart is sponsored in partnership with Boulder County, the cities of Boulder and Longmont, Xcel Energy and the Platte River Power Authority, and is one of 41 grant programs nationwide that comprise the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program.

Before moving to Louisville in July, Martin Kelly and his wife, Lisa, lived in a drafty house in Connecticut that shivers in their memory. The couple sought advice from EnergySmart Advisor Gaby Larrea in rendering their “new” 1928 home cozy and energyefficient. Boulder contractor EcoSmart Homes helped the couple reduce the natural air changes per hour in their home from 63 percent to 43 percent, better sealing the home’s envelope.

“I was quite pleased,” Kelly says. “If we had done this ourselves, I wouldn’t say it would be haphazard, but to get the broader perspective and get the options available was quite helpful.”

City of Boulder staff worked with various researchers and consultants to develop the new energy-efficiency model that includes assigning an advisor to each client.

Before, “people would get this energy audit report and it would sit on their kitchen counter for months and months and months,” says Yael Gichon, residential sustainability coordinator for the City of Boulder. “That was identified as one of the biggest barriers, was getting people from audit to action. So the one-step shop and the advisor, it was that hundredth monkey theory.”

Since June, participation in the program has snowballed, particularly among landlords seeking to get a jump on SmartRegs’ 2019 energy-efficiency deadlines. About half of Boulder’s homes are rentals.

“We have currently reached/enrolled [through advisor services, upgrades and rebates] more than 3,400 homes and more than 1,400 businesses,” says Beth Beckel, an energy efficiency and sustainability specialist with EnergySmart.

About $3.6 million has been spent so far in the local economy upgrading buildings, says Mazal.

EnergySmart’s goal is to see at least 10 percent of homes —10,000 countywide — and 3,000 businesses upgraded before funding ends in May 2013.

City officials envision the program helping to usher in an energy-use decline.

According to the Community Guide to Boulder’s Climate Action Plan 2010/2011 Progress Report, “With the launch of EnergySmart services and SmartRegs in January 2011, reductions in residential energy consumption are expected in the 2011 inventory, even as the number of housing units may continue to slowly increase.”

The progress report is available online at www.bouldercolorado.gov.

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