Kat Boyd, a Sopris Lodge chef, cooks up a tasty meal under the new kitchen's demand-controlled ventilation hood. Photo by James Steindler.

People who own or rent multi-family homes shouldn’t be excluded from energy-saving upgrades and rebates readily available to single family homeowners. One problem is that it can be complicated and time-consuming for property managers to know about free devices that could be installed, or qualify for rebates from the utility company, according to Chris Walters. Walters, a Franklin Energy employee, works out of Grand Junction. He is the multi-family energy advisor contracted to Black Hills Energy, Carbondale’s natural gas provider.

If Carbondale sticks to its 2017 Climate and Energy Plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions down to net-zero by 2050, the barriers to energy savings in multi-family dwellings must be addressed, says Heidi McCullough, the buildings specialist with Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER). Carbondale’s inventory of multi-family housing, both owned and rented, represents significant untapped potential for residential energy savings, she says.

About 22% of the residential energy used to heat, cook and dry clothes in Carbondale comes from natural gas, according to the Town’s climate and energy plan. “While natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels, using it still means combustion that leads to carbon emissions,” says McCullough. Natural gas also can leak methane, another greenhouse gas, in its production and transportation, she says. “The electric grid is not carbon-free but is moving to electrically-powered systems” from sources that are renewable, often decentralized alternatives like solar and wind power, and technologies like air-source heat pumps. So, natural gas as we know it, won’t be part of the net-zero energy mix of the future.

All that being said, Black Hills Energy offers multi-family energy efficiency programs that can extend participation in the market for low carbon-emitting and cost-saving products, right now, says Walters. “People start out thinking that I am trying to sell them something, but I can give them products for free,” he says. “Or, if they already have energy efficient appliances and things like programmable thermostats, then I fill out the paperwork for them to submit to Black Hills to get them rebates on their utility bill.”

Sopris Lodge, the new senior living campus, is the first in Carbondale to take advantage of the Black Hills rebate program. Walters says that the lodge “was on a good path already” toward energy reduction when he contacted them about rebate eligibility.  The lodge had installed a natural gas-powered, demand-controlled kitchen ventilation hood, a deep fryer and stove and oven combination that qualified for about $30,000 in rebates, says Walters.

“We were hoping to get some [rebates] but we did not know what they were going to be or how much,” says Terry Claassen, who represents the Sopris Lodge ownership group.

Existing multi-family properties on the Western Slope that tenants and developers have benefited from through the Black Hills multi-family program are Eagle Villas, a rental property in Eagle, and Alta Vista de la Montana Apartments in Delta. Both of these properties “house low-income tenants, so I’m sure these savings will ease the burden on the housing program,” says Walters.

Walters begins with a free energy assessment, which, depending on the number of units, can take a few days to a few weeks. Since he enters each unit to perform the assessment, he must be accompanied by a staff member. “That’s a hang-up, because of staff shortages,” he says. He can also install products in each unit. Programmable thermostats, which allow the family to set the time for increased and decreased temperatures throughout the day, and aerated faucets for kitchen sinks and shower heads are the most frequently installed items.

Another problem is that there are a lot of people who perform energy audits who try to sell products, and overstate the savings, says Walters. “I under promise and over deliver.”