Thursday, January 22, 2015

Keep 4CORE's Engine Running

This is a shout out to all the sponsors that keep 4CORE's Energy Information Hub spinning. 4CORE provides information to over 35,000 information requests annually.

We conduct presentations that draw hundreds of participants, and we are grateful to the following entities that help us spread energy information!

Sponsors of the Newsletter for six months or more:

La Plata Electric Association provides its members safe, reliable electricity at the lowest reasonable cost while being environmentally responsible.

SilverPick Contracting is a certified ENERGY STAR builder. They offer all of the benefits that go with this certification, which includes a 100% commitment to building only ENERGY STAR certified homes. SilverPick's high professional standards, cutting-edge innovation, attention to detail, and superior customer service have earned them an outstanding reputation in the building industry. From the eye of a casual observer, SilverPick's products may seem similar to the house next door, but, if you explore the entire project from the ground up, there are many differences. If you are thinking about a custom home, or remodel, don’t hesitate to contact them today!

The Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado (HBASC) is a non-profit professional association of 100 member companies, all local businesses, whose diverse services include building homes, remodeling, architecture and design, real estate sales, banking and mortgage refinancing, insurance, subcontracting and material suppliers. They are affiliated with the Colorado Association of Home Builders which has more than 3,200 member companies and the National Association of Home Builders which has 216,000 member companies. All three organizations have extensive social, political and educational programs. Members employ many of the people working in our community, several thousand here locally in La Plata County. These employees provide a significant contribution to the local community.

American Solar Transformation Initiative
Southwest Solar Transformation Initiative (now expanded to the American Solar Transformation Initiative) represents a regional team of public and private ASTI partners committed to advancing solar power adoption across participating municipalities within the Southwest region. ASTI is targeting communities in the Southwest because the solar resource is abundant, but its enormous potential has been largely untapped. The focus of this program is to drive solar market maturity via significant improvements in five key areas: Permitting, Planning and Zoning, Interconnection, Net Metering and Financing.

Mantell-Hecathorn Builders, Inc. has been building and remodeling custom homes as a family-run company for 40 continuous years. They have developed a distinguished reputation for excellence, craftsmanship and service. Greg and Hunter are the first to earn their Master Certified Green Professionals credential in the state of Colorado. Mantell-Hecathorn Builders is also the only SW Colorado builder listed on the EPA website as 100% committed to building ENERGY STAR homes. Each home goes through rigorous third-party testing certification under one or more of the following programs: ENERGY STAR DOE Zero Energy Ready NAHB GreenEPA Indoor AirPlus. Mantell-Hecathorn Builders’ work ethic, experience, commitment to their clients and leadership in energy-efficient building have made them one of the most trusted builders in Durango. They initiated the Sustainable Building Education Program adopted by 4CORE and have been proud supporters of 4CORE ever since.

Alpine Bank is a $2.4 billion dollar, employee-owned organization chartered in 1973 with headquarters in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. With 37 banking offices throughout Colorado, Alpine Bank employs over 500 local people and serves more than 130,000 customers with retail, business, trust, asset management, mortgage, and electronic banking services. Alpine Bank has received local and national recognition for its creative philanthropic programs in the communities they serve. The Bank was 2001 Colorado Company of the Year as named by Colorado Biz Magazine and the University of Denver Daniels College of Business, as well as a six-time winner of the Best Companies for Working Families Award from Colorado Parents Magazine. The Bank’s community efforts have been highlighted by ABC World News Tonight, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Bankers Association. For more information, visit

Since 2003 Proven Technologies has provided the best products available for safe, sustainable, and energy efficient buildings. Our hands-on knowledge of ICFs and Concrete Homes, along with superior service, has made Proven Technologies successful. We have 45 years of experience in the construction business. Call Proven Technologies LLC to explore what steps you might now take, based on the stage of decision making you have reached. Call 877-626-5426 for more information.

SolarWorks is a full-service solar photovoltaic and solar thermal installation company serving businesses and residents in Southwest Colorado. Our clients trust our expertise, our products, and our knowledge to develop creative solutions to their energy needs. SolarWorks is Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (CoSEIA) certified and offer 25-30 year warranties, retrofits and remodels for residential and commercial.Take advantage of a free site assessment by calling (970) 382-2624 or emailing SolarWorks today.

HomeRx Partners

Solarize La Plata Partners

Healthy Homes Partners

Partner with 4CORE

Become a sponsor today! We have opportunities to fit every budget. As an Enterprise Zone project and 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donating to 4CORE gives you:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Solar Barn Raising Demystified

On the 25th of October I had the pleasure of participating in a solar barn raising in North Dalton, about 20 minutes North of Durango proper, the exact location being the lovely home of Norton and Debbie Hindley. Despite my enthusiasm for renewable energy, I had never actually seen solar panels being installed on a building before, nor really given any serious thought to actually doing it myself.

I certainly had some butterflies to accompany my excitement about the experience. I didn't want to be the tyro getting in the way of the pros, but luckily the experienced part of the crew, which was all but myself and one other person, were incredibly accommodating toward my complete lack of knowledge. Luckily, it doesn't take too long to catch on to some of the basics of installation.

My solar installation education began with the 'slap in the face' realization that solar barn raising does not have anything to do with the construction of a barn. Looking back at it I feel rather silly, having worked for a company that dealt in the sale of wind and solar energy supply to homes, but I showed up thinking, “Where’s the stuff for the barn?” I was unfamiliar with the term “solar barn raising”, which led me to assume we were putting together a stand alone barn or shed like structure that the solar array would be placed upon.

Turns out, I wasn't too far off, as a solar barn raising can mean both the construction of a stand alone array, which could be an actual barn if you so desire, or the installation of photo voltaic panels on the southern facing portion of the roof of a home. Really it was one of those instances where my insecurity of not knowing anything about what I was doing or anybody I was working with got in the way of me looking it up on Google.

The day before, solar panel installer Jay Hecker and company had started some of the initial installation steps for the panels by drilling holes into the trusses. We began by installing metal flashing between the layers of shingles, followed by flanges into the flashing, which would later hold the beam, or racking, that panels would be tightened to. It doesn't sound like a lot when put into words, but make no mistake, installing solar panels is time consuming, and if it’s a warm fall day, roofs can become very hot, especially if they are covered with black tar shingles. The day's work was extended well past 4 PM for some of the crew.

Since I’m no expert, I can’t quite say that any single material is the most important in solar panel installation, but it turns out that having the right grade of aluminum nuts for bolting down the panels is extremely critical. Because of their relative lightweight and large surface area and general exposure to the elements, if a gust of wind is at the right speed, it can tear a solar panel off of a roof if it is not held down properly. Because the grade of aluminum nuts we were using was inferior, they kept cracking when we were tightening them down with a torque wrench, which didn't bode well for the possibility of high winds, which are not uncommon in the San Juan Mountains. Barn raising coordinator John Lyle had to drive back into town to purchase nuts that are most commonly used on toilets, which are currently holding up quite nicely.

Because of La Plata Electric Associations (LPEA) guidelines, Norton and Debbie could only have fifteen solar panels installed that day, even though they intended to install quite a few more. However, they were able to successfully petition LPEA and now their home is primarily powered by solar.

The best thing I took away from my day in North Dalton, aside from better knowledge of solar panels and their installation, was the fact that solar barn raising help increases the community visibility and strengthening and building comradery among volunteers, and significantly reducing the costs for the homeowner. Solar panel prices are still decreasing, but by cutting out the costs of labor, the return on investment is larger and the payback time is much shorter. It also serves as an excellent community building exercise, where individuals can get together and have a positive impact on their surroundings.

Other than that, I took home probably one of the gnarliest sunburns I have ever had in my life from the combination of eight hours of sun and hot roof. Join the next solar barn raising effort, but don't forget to wear sunscreen.

About the Author

A Durango local, John 'Jack' Dea is a 4CORE intern who recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelors in Political Science, specializing in Environmental Policy and Political Economy. After a term at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, PA, John decided that his true passion lay in environmental sciences, conservancy, and sustainable residential and business practices. John's professional background includes working in sales for Green Mountain Energy Company, a national wind power supplier, before finally relocating back to Durango. John is currently preparing to apply to Graduate School in pursuit of a Master's in an environmental science related degree.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

La Plata County in the LEED

There is some good news for a previous bank building on 11th Street in Durango. It is being renovated to the tune of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED Certification.

La Plata County purchased the 12,658 square foot building, formerly owned by Vectra Bank, to accommodate the offices of the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners, the County Assessor, County Administration and Finance. The building will be called the La Plata County Administration Building.

Mark McKibben, General Services Director
The $3.9 million project is being funded in part by a $1.5 million Energy Impact Assistance Grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Working with LEED Accredited Professional Michelle Reott of Earthly Ideas, La Plata County is striving for LEED Gold certification for the project.

Highlights of the project include:
  • Adding significant roof insulation to keep heat in during cold months and a white roof, membrane to reflect the sun in warm months,
  • Replacing windows with more energy efficient models,
  • Installing conduit for potential future electric vehicle charging stations,
  • Adding an elevator to provided access for those with disabilities, 
  • Using recycled concrete as fill material,
  • Installing a sophisticated building automation system to ensure efficient energy management,
  • Recycling all its materials using local firm Phoenix Recycling,
  • A much needed county training room with wireless, carts and technology upgrades,
  • Green power credits.
The finished building, with a total of 16,147 square feet with additions, is slated to be open and occupied in July of 2015. Compared to a 'code-compliant building', the remodeled La Plata County Administration Building will realize approximately 20% annual electricity and gas cost savings, saving taxpayers money for years to come. It is clear from this project, along with other LEED and ENERGY STAR buildings in the area, that Southwest Colorado is a leader in energy reduction and sustainable building initiatives.

About the Author
Teresa Shishim is a Colorado native who is dedicated to improving where we live through collaboration. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science at Western Washington University and has significant experience managing and coordinating projects and programs, including marketing campaigns, volunteer programs, and events. She gained this experience through a variety of positions, including serving as the Director of a non-profit river restoration group and as Marketing Manager for a start-up software company. Teresa also owns the graphic design company Yoka Design.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One Millennial Can't Code

As a Millennial I feel somewhat ashamed to admit, I know nothing about writing code and practically nothing about website design. I know many Milliennials who not only know how to write code and build their own websites, but they practically taught themselves these skills. Not to say that people from other generations don’t have these skills, but it seems more common place in the Millennial generation. After all it’s impossible for most Milliennials to remember a time when home computers didn’t exist, let alone life without the internet, and as someone from this tech savvy generation I find my knowledge and skills of web design and code writing to be poor at best.

Despite my lack of knowledge of code writing and web design, I decided to undertake updating our 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage. Initially, I was thinking I would make some suggestions and then have Teresa, our website manager, make the changes for me. Teresa had other ideas however, and she gave me the necessary permissions and short tutorials necessary to make the changes myself. I started off just making minor edits regarding the details of the Refuel Colorado program and inserting new information on alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) that I thought might be helpful for fleets and the public at large. Soon afterwards, I found myself wanting the 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage to do more.

I started off by embedding the Clean Cities YouTube Channel directly into the page so viewers can watch these videos without having to leave the 4CORE site. I then moved on to create an online sign up form for fleets to complete if they’re interested in a FREE fleet analysis for AFVs. While I didn’t embed this form into the website, I thought a clickable button would be a nice way for interested fleets to sign up for a FREE analysis (turns out having Teresa write the code and create the button for me was easier than her teaching me how to write the code and create the button).

I did manage to create and embed a “Statement of Interest” form to help demonstrate what the demand for alternative fuels may be like if the necessary fueling infrastructure were available in our area. Unfortunately, the form was too small and you couldn’t see the entire thing at once. Upon looking at the code I made a guess as to what numbers, symbols, and the like, were related to the size of the form. My guess was right and I made many changes to the code (actually I changed one number multiple times) until the form was the size I wanted.

Finally, I created and embedded a calculator for determining potential tax credits for the purchase of an electric vehicle.

Did you know if you buy a Tesla in Colorado, you could be eligible for up to $13,500 in state and federal tax credits? With the 4CORE Calculator for Determining Tax Credits for Qualified Plug-In Electric Vehicles (I know the title isn’t very catchy) anyone can enter information specific to their electric vehicle purchase (cost, battery capacity, and incentives) and it will calculate the estimated state and federal tax credits they could receive. There is even more to the 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage and I highly recommend taking a look at it!

Take time to browse the 4CORE Alternative Fuels webpage; play with the tax credit calculator, watch some Clean Cities YouTube videos, explore the various resources on AFVs, and register to attend the 4CORE/Colorado Energy Office (CEO) Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicle Event.

Event details:

Friday, December 12th, from 9:00 am - 11:00 am
La Plata County Road and Bridge Facility
365 S. Camino del Rio, Durango, CO 81303
FREE coffee, donuts, and fresh fruit for those who attend!

Eventbrite - 4CORE/Colorado Energy Office CNG Vehicle Event

We hope to see you there!

About the Author
Sarah is the Program Specialist at 4CORE who runs the Alternative Fuels Program. She is a Colorado native who fell in love with the Durango area while earning her Bachelor’s in Anthropology at Fort Lewis College. After graduation in 2010 she earned a Master’s in Anthropology and Certificate in Sustainable Urban Infrastructure from the University of Colorado Denver. Sarah moved back to Durango in 2012 in hopes of starting a career in the field of sustainable development. After a grueling 11 month AmeriCorps service term installing weatherization upgrades to low income housing in Southwest Colorado, Sarah is excited to be working with 4CORE on improving the sustainability and resiliency of our local communities.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Family's Journey to the Sun: Part Three

Photo by Ethan Lofton
We began telling Will Finn's story this month in Part 1 and Part 2, and we wrap it up with this: They are not done yet.

After saving as much energy with efficiency measures in Part 1 and joining the Durango Community Solar Garden in Part 2, you'd think that Finn and Family would be finished with saving energy and money. But they are not.

'Q' is for Quality

Once he has completed all the efficiency upgrades that were prescribed in the HomeRx report, Finn plans to get a quality inspection from 4CORE to ensure the air leaks are plugged and his new appliances are working properly. Setting up the blower door for a second time after he has made the changes will let Finn rest assured that his home is sealed tight and the energy he needs to heat and cool will decrease.

Options for a Clean Commute

Will has recently become a big fan of the "Way to Go Club" in Durango. The little gifts every so often help keep him commuting by bike and connect him with others who are doing the same.

Additionally, Sandra commutes quite a way and now that they subscribe to solar power, they are looking into an electric car to commute responsibly. The Tesla models are the only electric cars that offer a long enough range for her commute. However, the financial investment is a barrier at this point. Will and Sandra are biding their time, as Tesla has announced a new Model 3 that will arrive in 2017, offering an affordable price with the range Sandra needs to get all the way to work. They are using this time to save up for another purchase from a solar garden to power this electric car.

Saving Water Outside

Most water at home is used on lawns and gardens in the summer. Will and Sandra will begin xeriscaping their front yard to reduce water use this coming spring. This will save water resources, as well as on water bills, which are likely to increase by next summer.

How About You?

Now that you've heard about Will, Sandra and Jasper, what is YOUR story? 4CORE would love to hear about your efforts in the comment section below!

About the Family
Will Finn is an internal medicine physician and his wife Sandra Beirne is a pediatrician. They have a four-year-old son Jasper. Previous to moving to Durango, Dr. Finn spent four years practicing broad-spectrum Internal Medicine on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock. He and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing. He believes that if everyone could make their home more energy efficient, we would make our community stronger and our world more liveable.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Family's Journey to the Sun: Part Two

It is National Energy Awareness Month and we're celebrating by continuing our story about a family who is reducing their energy use.

In Part One of this story, we found out about the energy Will Finn and Sandra Beirne are saving at their home through an energy assessment and upgrades. Just around the time of this HomeRx Assessment, Solarize La Plata was accepting participants. Finn and Beirne signed up to take part.

As part of the process, Shaw Solar came to their home and did a site assessment. The outcome was not what they'd hoped for.

Shaw solar's utility bill analysis surmised that they would need a 6 kilowatt (kW) system to power their family's needs. The roof is marginal because they are shaded by a hillside and many trees. The house is oriented on north-south axis with the roof facing east and west. Because of these issues, Shaw recommended a pole mount system, which would have shaded their family garden and created what some might consider an eyesore in their neighborhood.

Though this was a setback for the family, sunnier news came quickly in the form of a Community Solar Garden. 

John Shaw & Friends
 at the Girls and Boys Club
At about the time they found out that the roof-mounted system would be out of reach, La Plata Electric Association approved Policy 366, which made it possible for the creation of Community Solar Gardens. Shaw Solar had two gardens to choose from- one in Ignacio and one in Durango. 

Because the Durango array will be located on the Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County building, Finn opted for this closer array so that his son could see where their power was being produced. Since the array will be visible from Main Avenue and  it is located on a non-profit that works with kids, there is a good chance that his son and other kids will be learning about the benefits of solar in their community- which were positives for Sandra and Will.

Using a 5% increase in electricity costs, Shaw estimated their payback to be approximately twelve years. Finn's family feels good knowing that electric prices will likely be rising faster than that (potentially producing a faster payback) and the environmental choice to take part in this Community Solar Garden was clear for them. They are now signed up to subscribe for 6 kW of power from this garden and feel much relieved that this was an option since their own roof mounted array was not.   

So they've got a safe and efficient home. They are on their way to solar power. What more can they do and what is next?

Find out the surprising answer in the third and final part of this series by subscribing to the 4CORE newsletter.

About the Family
Will Finn is an internal medicine physician and his wife Sandra Beirne is a pediatrician. They have a four-year-old son Jasper. Previous to moving to Durango, Dr. Finn spent four years practicing broad-spectrum Internal Medicine on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock. He and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing. He believes that if everyone could make their home more energy efficient, we would make our community stronger and our world more liveable.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Family's Journey to the Sun: Part One

Will Finn and his family moved to their Durango home in April of 2013. Built in 1990, they were soon to find out how the home needed some attention to safety and efficiency.

Finn and family moved from Shiprock New Mexico, where he was briefly involved with a taskforce that worked to improve the efficiency of area homes so that they could move toward taking advantage of the area's abundant solar energy. This experience familiarized him with the notion that if a home is leaky and inefficient, there is no sense in investing in solar. Making a financial or an environmental decision for your home starts with efficiency.

Finn and his wife Sandra heard about 4CORE from La Plata Electric Association, who conducted an electricity usage assessment at no cost. The LPEA staff suggested several things that could make their home more efficient, including window blinds and a deeper analysis of their home through 4CORE's HomeRx Program.

Will and Sandra signed up for a comprehensive home assessment while getting a bid for new blinds. The estimate for insulating blinds was $6,000. In the end, they were glad to have the in-depth testing by 4CORE, which provided a blower-door and other technical assessments. Not only did these tests reveal they didn't need new blinds after all (they just needed to latch their windows), they discovered carbon monoxide was leaking from their furnace room, situated right next to the bedroom of their son.
“4CORE's thorough professional evaluation revealed many shortcomings of our home that we never would have noticed, including a potentially dangerous carbon monoxide back-draft on a part of our home that wasn't built to code.” 
Money Matters

Incentives made it possible for Finn to receive a total of $250 off the assessment and another $500 toward efficiency improvements that were recommended in the HomeRx report. All told with rebates and the federal tax credit, Finn saved $1,875 on their home improvement projects.

 Amount  Product/Service Grantor
 $150 HomeRx Assessment Energy Smart/ Atmos
 $400 Efficient Furnace Atmos
 $25 Programable thermostat Atmos
 $50 Proper Furnace sizing Atmos
 $100 HomeRx Assessment City of Durango
 $500 Efficient Furnace City of Durango
 $300 Fed tax credit for solar attic fans US Fed IRS
 $100 Marathon Water heater LPEA
 $250 30 LED bulbs LPEA
 $1,875 Total

New energy efficient furnace and marathon water heater
The 'To Get Done' List
"Many of these recommendations are cheap and easy to do on our own, but we are contracting out the bigger items, which is helping provide work for some local companies.”
The HomeRx Assessment helped educate Finn about specific tasks that would improve his home safety and efficiency. Here is the substantial list of improvements they have accomplished:
  • Sealed a heat duct that was causing an unsafe carbon monoxide back draft. Now they have a closed system in their furnace closet so that it isn't vented right next to their son's bedroom. 
  • Replaced their furnace with an efficient model 
  • Replaced water heater with a Marathon Model 
  • Installed a programmable thermostat to regulate temperature when they are not at home
  • Put a timer on the water heater in case 'time of use' from LPEA is an option. 
  • Replaced 57 light bulbs with efficient LED and CFL bulbs. This was a bigger project than he anticipated, but he took advantage of LPEA rebate of up to $10 per LED bulb. 
  • Caulked along windows
  • Insulated the attic hatch
  • Replaced recessed light housing because of the direct access to the attic from these cans. This is something he never would have done otherwise, but was a need that HomeRx revealed.
  • Installed solar powered attic fans. 
  • Sealed a heating vent in the laundry room (there were two heating vents in the laundry room so it was excessively warm) 
  • Installed new, more energy efficient bathroom fan in each bathroom
The last item that Finn is currently working on is to replace the foam board in the garage storage room.

A conservative estimate of $424 per year in energy cost savings based on these improvements was calculated by 4CORE.

Now that their home is more efficient, they are ready for the next step in their 'Journey to the Sun'. Stay tuned to the 4CORE newsletter for the Part Two!

About the Family
Will Finn is an internal medicine physician and his wife Sandra Beirne is a pediatrician. They have a four-year-old son Jasper. Previous to moving to Durango, Dr. Finn spent four years practicing broad-spectrum Internal Medicine on the Navajo Reservation in Shiprock. He and his wife enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing. He believes that if everyone could make their home more energy efficient, we would make our community stronger and our world more liveable.