When the Rifle Housing Authority directors decided to improve the energy efficiency of their senior and disabled housing units, they went big.
So big, in fact, that the authority is one of only two Western Slope winners of Xcel Energy's 2013 Energy Efficiency awards.
The awards are given to commercial, industrial and small business customers in Colorado that demonstrate "outstanding" electricity and natural gas savings, according to an Xcel press release.
For Vicki Choate, chair of the housing authority board, the award came as a nice surprise, but the project's outcome has been the biggest win of all.
The project, which was completed in December 2011, included adding insulation, winterizing windows and doors, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and replacing boilers.
"We replaced all of our boilers with 95 percent efficient boilers, 19 boilers in all," said Choate. "It was the biggest order (for boilers) in Colorado that year, and it was worth every penny."
Eighteen of the 19 boilers were between 27 and 29 years old, she noted, and one boiler was 18 years old.
In addition, all units with water heaters that were more than 10 years old were set up with "sidearms," three-gallon tanks that connect to the unit's boiler and provide on-demand hot water. Units with newer water heaters were set up to receive sidearms in the future.
The savings from the $335,000 project, which was funded by grants and the housing authority's operating budget, have been a pleasant surprise.
"When the board voted to do this, we thought the best outcome would be preventing an increase in our electric bills," said Choate. "Instead, we've been able to cut our electric bills. The contractors said it would pay for itself in 10 years, but it will probably pay for itself in five."
Since the project was finished, energy usage in the 106 units managed by the housing authority dropped from 20 to 50 percent, depending on the building.
"The Jackson Heights building dropped their usage by 35 percent," Choate said.
Overall, the savings add up to approximately $20,000 per year for the housing authority, which pays all utilities except phone and television for each unit.
"Businesses are placing efficiency projects higher on the priority list now that they realize how much money can be saved," said Jerome Davis, Xcel Energy regional vice president for Colorado in the news release. "These awards are a way for businesses to share their accomplishments with employees and customers."