The adage that problems create opportunity may be best illustrated by a condominium community in Edwards.
The 300 or so residents of the 156-unit Villas at Brett Ranch felt they were paying too much to heat their homes. Nearly a quarter of the homeowners association dues - almost $125,000 annually - was for gas heat.
Many of us are painfully familiar with this problem. High heating bills can feel like a repetitive stress injury as you reach deeper and deeper into your pocket.
The Villas at Brett Ranch found a way pretty free of pain to reduce its heating expense, and the solution keeps on giving. For the Villas at Brett Ranch, it wasn't about being green. It was about money.
The neighborhood just west of Edwards was built 14 years ago for year-round residents. Two summers ago, the homeowners association board and management company, McNeill Property Management, began efforts to reduce expenses so more money would be available for the upkeep of the homes, pool and other amenities.
It didn't take long for the board to contact Eagle County's Energy Smart staff, who outlined a process to study and solve the neighborhood's high gas cost problem.
As part of the Energy Smart assessment, building analyst David Zilar (Todays BLDG Inc.) did a combustion appliance zone test to measure the safety and efficiency of the heating systems. Blower-door testing showed air-leaks in the units, and thermal imaging helped to illustrate the problems. Glowing colors on the images showed heat leaking out of the buildings. Unregulated heat in garages, and subpar insulation in the attics of all 23 buildings were the main culprits.
After the assessment, Energy Smart connected Villas at Brett Ranch with qualified contractors to do the work, and provided rebates that cut project costs by around 40 percent. Thermostat controls were installed in each of the 23 buildings, limiting the garage heat to 45 degrees. Attic insulation was doubled in half of the buildings, with completion of the balance scheduled for 2014.
New garage heating controls, funded by the homeowners association's capital reserve fund, took about a month to complete, and the results were immediate.
In terms of energy savings, the garage improvements trimmed 16 percent off the gas bill. Adding insulation to attics saved 8 percent, so buildings with both improvements are showing a 24 percent decrease in heating cost.
And there are additional benefits. Residents report that their homes are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The homeowners association has dealt with ice damming on the roof by installing electric heat tapes. The new insulation reduced the need to use them.
The cost of these improvements in 2011 was just over $60,000. With annual savings of $20,000, these improvements will pay for themselves in three years - reduced to two years with rebates and incentives.
Even more savings will be realized once all the buildings are insulated.
"Dollar savings appear like an annuity payment year after year, providing money for other HOA projects and perhaps most important, additional value to the properties. By trimming total energy use by more than 15 percent, the Villas at Brett Ranch is now an Energy Smart Neighborhood, which means the homes will fetch a better price when sold," said Cliff Thompson, homeowners association president.
The Energy Smart program is run through a partnership between Eagle County and the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability.
Visit www.EnergySmartColorado.com or call 970-328-8777
John Gitchell is the regional Energy Smart regional program administrator for Eagle, Pirkin and Gunnison counties.