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Extreme makeover: energy edition

Ruth Michels, left, goes over samples of energy efficient window coverings with Dave Deters of Ambassador Blind N’ Shutter. (Business Times photos by Phil Castle)

Robert and Ruth Michels have made a lot of changes at their Grand Junction home to reduce their energy bills. The retired couple has installed new windows as well as a stucco exterior. They’ve also replaced the stove and refrigerator with more efficient appliances and they lower the thermostat setting for their furnace at night.

But as the winners of a contest sponsored by Xcel Energy, the Michels will enjoy up to $10,000 worth of additional improvements designed to make their home a model of what can be done to increase energy efficiency and decrease energy bills.

Ruth Michels, for one, is anxious to relate the experience to others. “There’s a lot of interest in this. Heavens, I’ll share.”

The Michels are among the latest two winners of an annual home energy makeover contest. A home in Wheat Ridge also was selected for a makeover. The winners were selected from among more than 4,500 Xcel customers in Colorado who applied for a makeover and 10 finalists who received home energy audits. Xcel has sponsored the contest for six  years, but this year is the first in which the competition was expanded to include Grand Junction.

Ed Thomas, a vice president with the Electric & Gas Industries Association (EGIA), said the results of an energy audit will be used to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the energy efficiency of the Michels’ home. Grand Valley businesses will provide the products and services for the makeover. The EGIA conducts the contest for Xcel Energy.

The results of the makeover will be posted online to show other homeowners the kinds of steps they can take to improve efficiency and reduce costs, Thomas said.

Fritz Diether, president of Frostbusters & Coolth in Grand Junction, said the energy audit revealed a number of improvements that can be made in the Michels’ home. The “Achille’s heel,” Diether said, is the design of the 1970s bi-level house in which the top portion of the home overhangs the lower portion. Since that feature hasn’t been properly insulated, it serves as a portal for cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer, he said.

Additional insulation is needed in the attic and some duct work and weather stripping also is required, he added. New window coverings also will help keep in heat in the winter and keep out heat in the summer.

Tom Minerick, a key account manager with Xcel Energy in Grand Junction, said homeowners as well as businessowners can take a variety of steps to save money on their energy bills. Some simple steps cost nothing, he said. Lowering the thermostat setting from 72 degrees to 68 degrees can save 5 percent on heating costs.

Robert Michels, left, joins Gary Tollefson of Energywise Consulting, center, and Fritz Diether of Frostbusters & Coolth in reviewing the results of an energy audit of Michels’ home in Grand Junction. Robert and Ruth Michels won a home energy makeover contest sponsored by Xcel Energy in which they’ll receive up to $10,000 worth of improvements that increase energy efficiency and reduce energy bills. (Business Times photos by Phil Castle)

The benefits of more expensive steps, such as buying more energy efficient furnaces and appliances, have to be weighed against the costs. But in many cases, Xcel offers rebates for such purchases, he said.

The best way to start, he said, is to conduct a home energy audit — preferably a comprehensive audit that includes a blower door test to check for air leakages and an infrared camera scan to identify where those leaks occur. Xcel offers to pay for energy audits, reducing the cost for a comprehensive audit to $120.

The Michels were anxious to review the results of the audit of their home, then surprised they’d won the contest. “We were totally blown out of the water when they called and congratulated us,” Ruth Michels said.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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