GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - For years, staffers at Defiance Thrift Store dreaded winter's arrival. The shop's rental space had very little insulation, and when cold air swept down the Roaring Fork Valley, staffers and customers would feel the chill.
Defiance Board member Sandy Swanson recalled, "We might as well have been heating the outdoors."
Defiance, established as a nonprofit in 1997, moved into that space in 2005. But Defiance officials had been squirreling away money for years in case an opportunity arose to purchase their own building. When the recent economic downturn arrived, they purchased the building, a simple metal structure, at 2412 S. Glen Ave.
The store's mission is two-pronged: to help those in need, with clothes and other personal necessities, and to not let a lot of usable stuff go into landfills unnecessarily.
In short, its mission is about saving resources, including energy.
So when Defiance board members closed on the new building, Swanson said, "our goal was to make the space as energy efficient as possible, because in the long run it was going to save us money."
The first order of business was to consult with energy experts on how to save. Defiance officials contacted Erica Sparhawk of CLEER, Clean Energy Economy for the Region, which runs Garfield Clean Energy.
Sparhawk created a package of recommendations that included insulation and air sealing, modern efficient lighting and a programmable thermostat.
"We followed all her recommendations as best as we could," Swanson noted.
Because thrift stores have a tremendous amount of merchandise, Defiance officials needed to keep the merchandise at the old location until the upgrades could be made. They figured they had two months to get the work done.
"You can't go back in and fix anything once all the merchandise is in the store," Swanson said. "Maybe you can paint a wall if you're lucky. So the moment we closed we had everybody ready to go."
Contractors, led by Erik VanTassel of Divide Creek Builders, started by sealing a large fan opening in the top of the south-facing wall that had allowed icy winds to blast into the building in winter. Then they turned their attention to insulation.
"We insulated with the highest rating we could fit in," Swanson said. "I think we got it to R-30. It's really a very comfortable building and we don't have very high heating bills.
"I sign the checks and it's nothing that gives me heart failure. When we were in the other building up the road, it was terrible," Swanson said.
Crawford Brothers Electric of Basalt replaced 85 incandescent track lamps with Sylvania LED lamps in the new building, and three fluorescent strips were replaced with T-8 fluorescent lamps. They replaced old exit lights with new LED exit lights and installed a new hot water heater.
Because of the store's location along South Glen Avenue, it's exposed to blasting sunlight in summer and icy winter winds. So contractors built an airlock front door and added heat-reflecting film to the store's front windows.
Although the energy savings in the retrofitted building can't be compared in a before and after scenario, Defiance is spending a lot less money on heating and lighting than it did at its old location.
"The bills are really low," said store manager Leslie Robinson. "This building costs less to heat than my home. We are just so pleased we don't have to spend a lot of our donation money on things like heating and cooling. It's a cost savings to the community."
Sparhawk helped Defiance get a rebate on the $5,000 in new light bulbs from the Garfield Clean Energy Challenge and an insulation rebate from SourceGas. The projected electric savings for the building are about $1,500 per year.
Defiance has come to rely on the energy coaching services offered by Garfield Clean Energy.
In October 2012, store officials got back in touch with Sparhawk to advise on the purchase of a new efficient furnace and cooling system. One of the store's furnaces was limping along, and the other had stopped working entirely.
Ironically, store staff didn't notice the broken furnace for a full six weeks because the insulation was working so well.
Sparhawk found rebates through Energy Outreach Colorado that allowed the store to replace both furnaces with better, more efficient models.
Now, not only will Defiance see savings on their utility bills, but the ongoing maintenance costs due to the frequent breakdowns will be gone. Every dollar the thrift store saves in energy costs and utility bills can instead go toward the services the store supports.
"Money that would have had to buy something like a furnace will now go towards taking care of people through LIFT-UP and Family Visitor Programs," Robinson said.
"Defiance really is a model of sustainability," said Sparhawk. "Not only does the store recycle all sorts of stuff that might otherwise end up in the landfill, they're now using considerably less energy to make staff and shoppers comfortable - all while helping those most in need in our community."