Sally Cole in her carbon-neutral art studio. PC: Michele Cardamone 

A pioneering approach that protects habitat

So many animals flow through Sally Cole’s mid-valley property on the Roaring Fork River that her friends nicknamed her place “Sally’s Wild Kingdom.” (Or when they want to give their gregarious friend a ribbing: “Wild Sally’s Kingdom.”) The herons, deer, bear, elk, coyotes, owls and ermine don’t quibble the point; to them it’s just home.

A Midwest transplant who moved to the valley in 1967, Sally fell in love with horses and the outdoors early on. As a kid in Cleveland, she remembers “every waking moment, wanting to be out, free.” So when she had the opportunity to purchase the riverfront parcel on Hooks Spur Lane in the 80s, Sally knew the freedom it represented, not just for the kid in her, but also for the habitat she could create and protect for the fauna in the area. Of the energy decisions she would later make to her home, she says, “It’s mostly for the animals.”

When it came time to build in 1997, land use regulations for river setbacks weren’t as stringent as they are today, but Sally instinctively knew to situate her home far from the riparian zone. Instead, she built a pond — now filled with a dozen carp and and some 40 rainbow trout — as the centerpiece for the three-bedroom home and art studio that wrap around the water. Working with architect Scott Lindenau, she designed living spaces that seamlessly open to the outdoors. This included an all-glass art studio, with double-paned, floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, which Sally admits doesn’t meet her environmental criteria.

“I love it,” she says. “I get to see the animals, but it’s hard to heat.”

Living the way she envisioned without wasting became her mission.

Sally started with a home energy assessment from CORE in 2017 which made it clear that her house wasn’t optimized for energy performance. The blower door test and infrared camera images revealed high air leakage, low insulation, abundant moisture and mold, and a corroding boiler. “Lo and behold, I’d done a really lousy job.”

The go-getter set out to remedy that. She connected with one of CORE’s qualified contractors, Scott Mills of About Saving Heat in Carbondale, who helped her design a carbon-neutral energy plan, lined up contractors, and processed her rebates. Addressing her heating and cooling systems was next up. Working with Mountain Air Mechanical, Sally decided to swap out the old gas boiler in her art studio for two mini-split heat pumps, a super-efficient, electricity-based technology that can reduce energy consumption by up to 50%. Making the switch from natural gas to an all-electric system had multiple benefits. Sally loves how quiet, user-friendly and inexpensive her warm air is. And it reduced her studio’s fossil fuel dependency to 61% (the non-renewable percentage in her utility’s power mix) down from 100% (natural gas).

Scott helped Sally see that the next logical step on her environmental path was renewable energy. By generating her own energy from the sun, Sally would reduce her carbon footprint further and tread more lightly on her beloved land. He connected her to Sunsense Solar, a Carbondale firm that helped her design ground-mounted photovoltaic panels out of sight of the house. Her 11.60-kilowatt system generates 18,430 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, which is projected to offset close to 100% of Sally’s electrical usage and save more than 30,000 pounds of carbon each year. An app allows Sally to monitor how much energy she’s creating in real time. “It gives me a very good feeling to try to do my part,” says Sally.

In addition to the environmental benefits, Sally reaped financial rewards: “a very nice deduction for Federal taxes,” plus a $2,250 rebate from CORE and $7,300 from Holy Cross Energy. She’ll break even on her investment between six and seven years. “It’s kind of nice that you pay it out and then all of a sudden, people are paying you!” Her new system means her art studio is carbon neutral and has no electricity bills. “We all like to spend our money carefully.”

Sally’s approach to energy design in her studio — a mini version of the carbon-neutral vision for the future known as “beneficial electrification” — was pioneering. (Read up on the “electrify everything!” movement here.) If Sally were to flip her whole household from gas to electric then she would be eligible for a new $2,500 fuel-switch rebate that CORE is introducing, complementing the cash-back rebates she has already received for installing her heat pumps and solar PV.

“Why waste something?,” says Sally. “I want to leave this place with a good feeling, that I’ve done the very best by the land and the animals. CORE helped me with the whole package. Now I can live in a place I love, protecting habitat, without wasting.”

To learn about YOUR clean energy options and how you can kick the carbon habit, connect with our residential energy advisor Hannah Itzler by email and at 970.925.9775 ext. 507. By combining with utility rebates, you may be eligible for incentives of up to 50% of project costs.