Boulder building efficiency

Commitment to EnergySmart makes Boulder a national contender in energy efficiency

Courtesy of Dan Henderson

If Boulder was big enough to qualify for the list of largest U.S. cities ranked for energy efficiency, it would knock Denver out of the top 10, coming in at No. 7.

On the City Energy Scorecard, released in May by the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, Boulder outscored Denver by 10 points in building efficiency, earning a total of 69.25 out of 100. Denver came in 10th with 58.5 points.

Keeping energy from leaking out of cracks, coursing through inefficient appliances, and water dripping from faucets is a battle fought on multiple fronts in Boulder and Denver. Both have almost a dozen separate energy efficiency programs for home and business owners and the federal Better Buildings program is making strides on a local level for both building types.

Each efficiency program is a little different, but they follow the same basic model: participants get an advisor who determines where they stand, recommends upgrades and helps find funding and rebates.

“Someone may not know where to start and the advisor can help them figure out what would make sense in their home, what are their priorities and needs, what kind of budget are they working with,” says Lea Yancey, Boulder County community sustainability and energy specialist. “An advisor might recommend that they do a home energy assessment, which is kind of a diagnostic tool to figure out where is the home leaking energy.”

On the commercial level, Better Buildings Challenge strives to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient in the next decade. In the last two years Better Buildings Challenge has saved more than a billion dollars in energy costs, according to a Department of Energy report from May 27.

Boulder’s high marks in efficiency came partly from participating in the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, a sector of the federal Better Buildings. Boulder County received a $25 million BetterBuildings grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The City and County of Denver and Garfield County received a portion of the grant funds to deliver similar energy upgrade services to residents and businesses in other parts of Colorado. Collectively, these services results in upgrades to almost 4,000 homes, more than 5,000 multifamily units and 1,700 commercial buildings between 2011 and 2013. The upgrades have saved more than $6 million in energy costs.

With the funds, Boulder County created EnergySmart and worked closely with the cities of Boulder and Longmont to design and implement the service. Since the launch of EnergySmart in 2011, the program has served 12,915 households. Common upgrades include insulating attics, floors and walls along with air sealing to keep drafts from sneaking through cracks, Yancey says.

“That really helps with sealing up the home so it’s not wasting as much energy,” she says. “So it’s less drafty, more comfortable and also helping folks save on their utility bill.”

One Boulder resident, Colleen Roarty started working with EnergySmart before she even closed on her home. “I started right away because I didn’t want to live there the way it was,” Roarty says. “It was hot and swampy and old. I was afraid to turn the furnace on.”

Roarty’s 1959 home had the original furnace, no wall insulation and a very drafty attic. For $185, Roarty got an energy audit and was set up with Kelsey Lawrence, an energy advisor who helped her find almost $3,000 in rebates to bring her home up to date. Half of those rebates came from an Xcel Energy program for people whose homes need a serious overhaul.

“The home performance with EnergyStar rebate from Xcel Energy requires that you complete at least three upgrades,” Lawrence says.

“[Roarty] was able to do an air sealing rebate, a wall insulation rebate, programmable thermostat and a heat pump water heater,” Lawrence says. Those four upgrades earned her $1,500 from Xcel alone.

County, city, utility and EnergySmart rebates combined usually total around $1,000 for a typical Boulder resident, Lawrence says.

Denver’s version of EnergySmart, Denver Energy Challenge, shrunk when grant money ran out. It still offers homeowners free consultation and help finding contractors and funding, but no longer offers independent rebates or assistance for businesses.

Since Denver Energy Challenge’s 2011 start, the program has served more than 9,000 homes, says Julie Saporito, program administrator for Denver’s Department of Environmental Health. Upgrades have saved more than 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power 359 homes for a year.

Continued local support from Boulder County and the City of Boulder Climate Action Plan has allowed EnergySmart to continue serving homes and businesses and offering rebates of their own.

Boulder’s high score in energy efficiency came in part from both EnergySmart and the Climate Action Plan, according to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy.

“EnergySmart, they really have it figured out,” Roarty says. “I like to figure things on my own, just dive in and sort things out, but they were just a beacon in the night. They were wonderful.”