Payin’ up to stay warm this winter | VailDaily.com

Payin’ up to stay warm this winter

Alex Miller

Bret Hartman/Vail DailyImproving your insulation is one of the best ways to keep energy prices down this winter season.

EAGLE COUNTY – The drumbeat of higher energy prices has been growing louder ever since Hurricane Katrina disrupted oil drilling operations in the Gulf Coast. But for local energy consumers, it may not be as bad as originally anticipated.While some projections have put the increase in natural gas between 20 percent and 40 percent this winter, Craig Tate at Holy Cross Energy, the local supplier, said the utility is only expecting a 4 percent to 5 percent hike. Unlike a rate increase, that uptick is a pass-along cost based on the cost of gas from Xcel Energy, which supplies Holy Cross.”Hurricanes are driving up prices, but when they settle down it could go down a bit,” Tate said.Even so, Tate acknowledged that gas prices are high even without the latest spike.Jeff Ackermann at the Governor’s Office of Energy Management agreed, saying that natural gas prices used to fluctuate seasonally, giving people time to catch up on their bills. But with many power plants shifting from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, the situation has changed.”The demand stays pretty steady year-round and pushes prices up,” Ackermann said.Homeowners may bemoan the price increases, but they don’t have to take it lying down and shivering, either. From simple things like hanging insulated drapes to replacing an entire furnace or revamping a home’s insulation, a big difference in heating bills can be made.

Ackermann heads the state’s “Energy $aving Partners,” which helps low-income Colorado residents make their homes more energy efficient. The program focuses on people whose incomes are so low as to make their energy bills a sizable chunk of their salary. A household of four, for example, qualifies only if the income is at or below about $36,000 a year. But even those who make too much to qualify can learn a lot by emulating what the program does.”In extreme cases, we see people cut their energy consumption in half,” said Steve Getz, who manages the Energy Saving Partners locally through the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. “The average savings is more like 18 or 20 percent.”The waiting list for the free service, though, is a mile long. Getz said the Silverthorne-based program covers 13 counties – including Eagle – from Salida to Wyoming, Idaho Springs to New Castle. When they do show up, though, look out. Using the latest technology, the technicians are experts at discovering a home’s weaknesses, heating- and insulation-wise.With a device called a “blower door,” technicians can simulate a 25 mph wind blowing out of the house to find the weak spots. Depending on the house, they might replace all the windows, install new insulation or even replace the refrigerator or furnace.Energy savers

For those who don’t qualify for state assistance, there’s still plenty to do. Tate said people should look at the weak spots in their homes, particular windows. Insulated drapes or blinds, he said, can help a lot. Wrapping water heaters also helps by keeping the heat in the appliance and reducing gas use.Improving insulation in a home can also help reduce energy costs.”A lot of times we see ranch houses from the 40s and 50s that have some insulation, but nothing like today’s standards,” he said. “We do an upgrade package with fiberglass or cellulose and get very good results.”Rick Rogers with InsulVail, an insulation company, said a lot of local residents are calling to see about getting insulation upgrades. Some homes are candidates for upgrades, while others are trickier, he said.”If you can get access, that’s half the battle,” Rogers said. If a homeowner can look in an attic space through a trap door in a closet ceiling for example, then adding to that insulation is relatively simple. But even tighter spaces can be improved using foam products injected through holes drilled in the wall.The quality and age of a house says a lot about what kind of insulation it has, Rogers said.

“Many of the homes built (in Vail) in the 1970s, they were just slapping stuff up,” he said. “From the mid-80s on, it’s better, although maybe not as much (insulation) as you’d like.”For those now building – or thinking about it – Rogers said there’s no time like construction to do insulation properly.”We tell owners and builders this is your opportunity to do it and do it right,” he said, “or it’ll cost you a ton of money to come back and do it later on,.”Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado