“As an APCHA homeowner myself, I love the idea of playing a part (albeit quite minor) in combating the climate crisis — and this grant program was just the boost we needed to tip the balance between budgetary concerns and action.”
I couldn’t help but swell with pride when Charles Cady, an energy analyst for CORE, told me, “Your house is really tight.”
It was the second time my husband and I had signed up for a home energy assessment from CORE, and Cady had just completed a process known as a blower door test to measure air leaks. During our first energy assessment, way back in 2011, we were curious about what we could do to lower our energy bills and do the right thing for the environment — but weren’t necessarily prepared to spend a huge amount of money to do so. We had invested in a high-efficiency boiler when we moved into the 1,000-square-foot townhome in 2009 (we didn’t have much choice—the original boiler from when the complex was built in 1994 had conked out), and so were a little surprised to find out we weren’t doing so great. Our house was just below the level of a “very leaky older home,” according to our 2011 assessment.
Turns out that a high-efficiency boiler won’t do much if the building envelope isn’t well sealed and insulated — basically step one in improving a home’s energy efficiency. So, as a result of that first assessment, we insulated the crawlspace and a ceiling area, installed double-cell insulating blinds on most windows, and replaced some windows on the north and east sides with more energy-efficient ones. We also took advantage of several quick fixes offered as part of the assessment, like LED bulbs and low-flow shower and faucet heads. Over the years, we definitely noticed the difference in our energy bills.
But we always knew there was more we could do.
Eleven years later, there have been huge advances in green technologies, like cheaper solar panels and an expanded array of electric heat pumps for home heating and cooling. With improvements in things like LED lights and programmable thermostats, you don’t have to spend a lot to become more energy efficient. Equally weighing on us are rising natural gas heating prices and increased urgency of the importance of electrification to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and combat the climate crisis.
That’s why we were excited to learn about CORE’s latest residential program, a partnership with the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority that grants 60 APCHA homeowners up to $10,000 for energy efficiency improvements. When the flyer landed in our mailboxes this summer, it created a buzz throughout our neighborhood: Common Ground, a collection of 21 townhomes on the north side of Aspen.
To kick off the process, I applied for the program and signed up for the required (and free) energy assessment through CORE’s website while visiting family in Europe. (Apparently, the 60 first-come, first-served slots filled up quickly.) We scheduled the assessment for a time that worked for us, and Cady, a certified building analyst, was an incredibly friendly, deep font of knowledge throughout the process. As he tested our gas appliances for leaks, inspected the boiler and hot water heater, and walked through our home documenting air leakage along with everything that had been done and could be done, he explained what he was doing and what improvements could be made.
I was thrilled when Cady affirmed that the improvements we’d made since our 2011 assessment had made a difference. We had cut our air leakage almost in half, from 61% of the air leaking out every hour to 37% (which is close to the recommended 35%, according to Cady, as much below that, there are issues with a too-tight home).
Within a few days, we received our energy assessment report via e-mail. Next step was to review it, go over any questions, and hone in on our project with an expert at CORE. Tara Stitzlein, CORE’s climate action support specialist, was incredibly helpful in this regard — CORE actually has a more detailed version of the energy assessments than the homeowners receive, so it behooves homeowners to complete this important step. For our part, within one half-hour conversation with her and some conferencing with my husband, we decided to go for an electric induction range to replace our aging gas stove. Stitzlein immediately sent us a list of CORE-recommended electricians (to convert the outlets and wiring from gas to electric), information on electric cooking, and links to induction ranges.
As we work through getting our project completed, it’s encouraging to hear that the program so far has been very successful. According to Ryland French, CORE’s programs director, the goal of engaging with 60 homeowners was swiftly achieved, and the rollout of the program itself — providing up to $100,000 in up-front grants to homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements — is all about the greater good.
“Working with APCHA owners represents one of the greatest opportunities and benefits for our community,” says French. “Opportunities in terms of energy savings, because a lot of the APCHA stock has been around a while. And in terms of greatest benefits, APCHA homeowners represent a group that can benefit from reduced utility bills, increased comfort, greater satisfaction in their homes, and of course, as the climate changes save energy.”
CORE hopes to replicate and potentially expand the program in 2023, says French — and even better, create an effective model that other organizations can pursue that could eventually help improve the well over 1,000 owned homes in the APCHA system.
For the current program, APCHA provided the names and addresses in its ownership database, plus some publicity. As one of CORE’s key partners to work toward ambitious carbon-reduction goals, APCHA represents the largest number of properties in Pitkin County.
“Climate change affects all of us and we all have to take responsibility for something as basic as not wasting energy in our homes,” says APCHA Executive Director Matthew Gillen. “So, anything we can do to help out with that … we’re very excited. And we’ll be looking for more opportunities in the years to come for APCHA owners to benefit from other resources.”
As an APCHA homeowner myself, I love the idea of playing a part (albeit quite minor) in combating the climate crisis — and this grant program was just the boost we needed to tip the balance between budgetary concerns and action.
French, also an APCHA homeowner, said it best: “Programs like this are necessary. I live in an APCHA homeowners’ association and we have very high HOA fees, and it can be difficult to find the extra money to invest in my unit. Any little bit — or any big bit — can help when making decisions on how to spend our money. So, I can definitely relate.”
Catherine Lutz is a freelance writer based in Aspen. As a former newspaper reporter who has written about everything from entertainment to skiing to climate change for a wide variety of publications, nonprofits, and businesses, she understands the power of words to help connect us more closely with an idea, issue, or other people. An avid skier and biker raising two children to appreciate how lucky they are to grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley, she also hopes she and her family can make a positive impact on the community and the environment that sustains us.