Colorado Nonprofit Energizing Families and Seniors

March 01, 2016
March/April 2016
A version of this article appears in the March/April 2016 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Weatherization

Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) understands the importance of affordable home energy, particularly for low-income or vulnerable consumers. For more than 25 years this private, nonprofit organization has helped struggling Coloradans avoid the despair of coming home to a dark, cold home with no hot water or working appliances. Through 2015, EOC has weatherized more than 37,500 housing units at a cost of $38 million, and 313 nonprofit organization facilities at a cost of $17 million.

EOC supports energy affordability in Colorado through three distinct strategies:

  1. Provide emergency assistance for low-income households at risk of having their home energy disconnected for bill arrearages, or whose home energy system does not function.

  2. Reduce energy costs and usage by providing energy efficiency upgrades for affordable-housing communities and nonprofit facilities, and teach them how to modify their energy behavior.

  3. Advocate on behalf of low-income consumers at the local, state, and national levels to support equitable energy policies.

EOC works with a statewide network of community assistance organizations, contractors, and vendors to deliver its innovative programs. “EOC’s ability to partner with public, private, and nonprofit partners across the entire state of Colorado has ensured that more clients are served more effectively,” says Executive Director Skip Arnold. And he adds, “EOC is the only organization in the country that delivers energy bill payment assistance, energy efficiency improvements, energy behavior change programs, and advocacy for affordable-energy policy—all under one roof. This one-stop, client-focused approach to low-income energy assistance has allowed EOC to generate significant new resource opportunities for Colorado families and has become a national model.”

Filling the Energy Assistance Gap

Colorado’s then-Governor Roy Romer and an appointed Commission on Low-Income Energy Assistance formed EOC in 1989, during a period of skyrocketing energy prices. State leaders were concerned that Colorado’s annual allocation from the federally funded Low-Income Energy Assistance program (LIHEAP) wasn’t keeping up with rising energy costs. They decided that Colorado needed an independent mechanism to raise funds to fill this growing gap.

By 2003, local assistance organizations began hearing from newly homeless families that the cost of utilities had priced them out of their homes. EOC worked with state legislators to draft Colorado’s Low-Income Energy Assistance program, which was signed into law in May 2005. It requires energy utilities operating in Colorado to support energy assistance by offering customers the opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation to EOC. “Our state has a great history and tradition of helping those in need, and there is nothing more fundamental than helping provide a warm place to live,” said then-Governor Bill Owens, who went on to sign legislation in 2006 allocating $20 million in mineral and energy severance taxes paid to the state for Colorado energy assistance.

Sustaining Value with Weatherization Grants

EOC also introduced longer-term solutions to help limited-income families, the elderly, and individuals with special needs lower their energy bills through weatherization and education.

“We started providing grants to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together of Metro Denver to fund measures such as increased insulation and high-efficiency appliances,” says Arnold. EOC also partnered with community organizations to provide low-income households with energy-saving kits consisting of CFLs, low-flow showerheads, and thermometers to adjust refrigerator and water temperatures.

“We wanted limited-income consumers to have access to weatherization measures and new technologies, such as CFLs,” Arnold says. “We couldn’t control how high energy prices would climb, but we could help consumers manage their energy use.”

In 2006, EOC partnered with the City and County of Denver to apply Colorado utility Xcel Energy franchise fees toward energy efficiency upgrades for nonprofit facilities, particularly those providing shelter or other 24-hour services. In Colorado, regulated utilities enter into franchise agreements with the cities in which they serve to define how the utility will operate within the city limits. Most cities, including Denver, collect a franchise fee from the utility for the right to operate in the city. The fee is paid for by utility customers; it is typically 3% of the customer’s total monthly bill for natural gas and electricity.

Participating organizations were able to reduce energy costs and allocate more of their budgets toward services for low-
income populations. Family Tree was one of the first organizations to receive energy efficiency measures between 2010 and 2013 under EOC’s Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Program (NEEP). A women’s shelter, counseling center, clinic, and administrative center received the following cost-saving efficiency upgrades:

  1. 11 new appliances, including refrigerators, walk-in coolers, and freezers;

  2. 42 low-flow showerheads and sink aerators to decrease demand for hot water;

  3. HVAC equipment to improve comfort in both winter and summer, including 18 programmable thermostats, 2 air conditioners, 3 furnaces, and 1 evaporative cooler;

  4. interior and exterior lighting improvements, including 104 CFLs, 17 exterior lights for improved safety and night visibility, and 46 occupancy sensors;

  5. 29 Energy Star computer monitors; and

  6. 8 doors with new weather strip to decrease the amount of heated air leaking out in the winter and entering in the summer.

“The energy efficiency measures that have been installed in our facilities allowed us to reinvest the savings back into our programs for the people who rely on us,” says Scott Shields, Family Tree’s chief executive officer at the time. In the 12 months after the efficiency work began, Family Tree saved 150,608 kWh of electricity at a cost savings of almost $20,000. This allowed the organization to decrease administrative overhead, increase staff time directly spent with clients, and develop additional educational resources. “Everyone likes the occupancy sensors,” says Family Tree staff member Denise Berridge, who participated on a Family Tree conservation team. “All the contractors that came in were fantastic.”

New Funding Partners Fuel Weatherization Growth

EOC sought other weatherization partners and secured $175,000 in 2008 through Xcel Energy’s Demand-Side Management program to increase the energy efficiency of low-income housing. Contracts with other utilities operating in the state followed, including Atmos Energy and SourceGas. In addition, EOC began a partnership with Colorado Natural Gas, Atmos Energy, and SourceGas to implement weatherization measures in single-family homes that qualified for utility rebates.

After the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed in 2009, EOC was selected to administer the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) weatherization program for affordable multifamily housing, which was partially funded through ARRA and DOE. In its first year, the program invested a total of $2.8 million in energy efficiency upgrades for 15 multifamily communities totaling 1,071 housing units.

“Every one of the 1,071 units that were weatherized in the multifamily program represents a family that now has lower energy bills and more money in their pocket every month to put back into their community,” says Tom Plant, then-director of the Colorado GEO. For examples of these multifamily retrofits, see “Two Case Studies” on pages 26–27.

We Can All Save Energy

We Can All Save Energy
Figure 1. An example of the material EOC uses to educate the public about energy efficiency. (EOC)

Extending Savings Through Behavior Modification

A recent addition to EOC’s affordable home energy portfolio is its Energy Behavior Change program, which works the human side of the equation. Once EOC installs energy efficiency upgrades in an affordable-housing or nonprofit facility, it helps residents and tenants better understand how they use energy, how the way they use energy affects their bills, and how they can be smarter energy consumers. (See Figure 1.)

To date, EOC has worked with 35 Action Teams to involve residents and staff members of nonprofit housing organizations create long-lasting energy-saving changes to buildings and the habits of those who live and work in them. “We like to engage enthusiastic residents and staff through an Action Team and help them brainstorm energy-saving ideas,” says Nicole O’Connor, the Energy Behavior Change program manager. “They identify no-cost opportunities in their specific facility and motivate the entire community to meet energy savings goals.”

Family Tree was one of the first organizations to work with EOC on an Action Team. Staff from various departments at the administration center developed ideas for no-cost ways to save energy, even before the energy efficiency measures were installed. Here are some of the action items they came up with:

  1. Close windows when heating or cooling the building;

  2. Create a thermostat settings guide to reduce how often the thermostat is adjusted;

  3. Make sure lights in unused areas stay turned off, especially in bathrooms and conference rooms;

  4. When employees are not at work, turn off all appliances at workstations, including computers, computer monitors, printers, copiers, and fans.

Each department leader supported these efforts by encouraging staff members to sign pledge forms, displaying reminder signs, and using end-of-day checklists. Results were distributed through the internal employee portal.

In the four months after energy upgrades were installed at the administrative center (January–April 2013), the building reduced energy usage by about 24,000 kWh and 730 therms, for an overall cost savings of 28%, or $3,327.

Recently the Energy Behavior Change program worked with Laradon Hall Society for Exceptional Children and Adults to help establish an internal Green Task Force. EOC facilitated the team’s initial goal setting and sponsored an on-site Energy Jeopardy competition to provide Laradon staff with information about energy use and conservation.

In approximately the last half of 2015, the Green Task Force efforts reduced Laradon’s energy bills by 3%, for a cost savings of $2,397. Strategies included reviewing historic utility data, analyzing best practices for utility tracking, providing reminders to turn off lights when leaving a room, and recycling specific materials in new recycling bins. “Laradon’s Green Task Force is a phenomenal example of how to sustain change through establishing a committed team,” O’Connor says.

Altogether, Energy Outreach Colorado has more than delivered on its mission of ensuring that Coloradans continue to benefit from affordable home energy. It has raised more than $232 million to invest in affordable energy programs that save energy and reduce costs, “Our work has saved low-income utlity customers approximately 19.2 million kWh of electricity—equivalent to the annual electricity use of 1,756 typical American homes—along with 226,000 dekatherms of natural gas,” said Skip Arnold. “Our ability to leverage private and public funds has been critical in our success and growth.”

Peggy Hofstra is the marketing director for Energy Outreach Colorado.

Luke Ilderton, director of Energy Efficiency Programs for Energy Outreach Colorado, also contributed to this article.

This article was sponsored by DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Two Case Studies

To illustrate the good work EOC is doing in multifamily building, here are two case studies describing the renovation of two apartment complexes. The first case study includes actual postretrofit usage data. The second case study describes a project that was just completed as of this writing, so we have only predicted postretrofit usage data for that project. But the savings described in the first case study bode well for the future results of this second project.

Garden Court Apartments

Garden Court Apartments is a 300-unit affordable-housing complex totaling 220,000 square feet. Built in 1972, the complex consists of 14 residential buildings and a building housing the maintenance and leasing offices, community room, and pool. The residential units are all one- or two-bedroom apartments, and there are 18 to
24 apartments per building. Here are the preretrofit numbers:

  1. Annual cost for electricity: $234,113 (Xcel Energy). This represents measured usage for the common areas and estimated usage for the individual units.

  2. Annual cost for natural gas: $102,894 (Xcel Energy).

  3. Annual usage: 189 kW; 1,588,301 kWh; and 14,808 dekatherms (Dth).

  4. It inspection. All buildings have vaulted ceilings in the third floor, with R-30 insulation. The 2 x 4 walls are filled with batt insulation plus an additional 1 inch of extruded polystyrene rigid insulation installed during a siding renovation within the past five years. The units are heated by a central system, consisting of boilers of varying sizes and types. Domestic hot water (DHW) is provided by 334 MBH Raypack atmospheric boilers with a 115-gallon storage tank. The building shell is adequately insulated, with no opportunities to increase the insulation. Walls are R-16, ceiling is R-30. Lighting is updated in the main area of the common building. The maintenance area has the original T-12 fixtures and the original in-unit lighting in the kitchen. Many hard-wired and personal fixtures in the units have 60–75W incandescent lamps.

Weatherization measures installed. All heating and domestic hot water boilers were replaced with high efficiency, modulating, condensing boilers that supply reverse, indirect domestic hot water boilers at a total cost of $895,000. In the common area of all the buildings, the clubhouse and offices, and in the maintenance shop, the existing T-12 lighting was retrofitted with new electronic ballast, T-8 lamps, and new sockets. All of the apartments received upgraded in-unit lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures, and old refrigerators in 230 apartments were replaced with new Energy Star refrigerators.


  1. $248,000 from state weatherization program (LIHEAP funds).

  2. $91,000 from City and County of Denver.

  3. $79,000 from EOC private funders.

  4. $418,000 from building owner (a nonprofit affordable-housing developer).

  5. $214,000 from Xcel Energy (the combined utility provider).

Total project predicted annual savings were $69,120, a 26% annual reduction, including 74 kW; 168,525 kWh; and 6,969 Dth. With leveraged financing, we predicted a six-year simple payback for the building owner and residents.

Table A. Actual Savings (Garden Court Apartments)

Table A. Actual Savings (Garden Court Apartments)

Table A shows the actual savings that were determined from 12 months of data using EnergyCAP software. Total project actual annual savings were $45,295, a 33% annual reduction. The measured data show a nine-year simple payback for the building owner—still not too shabby. Note that the kWh savings were less than predicted and the therm savings were more than predicted. The difference between predicted and actual electricity savings wasn’t necessarily caused by underperforming electric measures. Rather, it was caused by the complication of tracking 300 individual electric meters to capture the savings from relamping with CFLs and installing Energy Star refrigerators. We're not sure if better tracking would have brought the project closer to the predicted six-year payback mark, but certainly a lot of the electric savings came from relamping with CFLs. We were able to track the common-area meters only to capture the savings from exterior lighting and common-area lighting measures.

Overlook at Thornton Apartments

The Overlook at Thornton Apartments is an affordable-housing complex in northeast Denver, with 160 residential units that total 126,000 square feet. Built in 1974, the complex consists of nine residential buildings, maintenance and leasing offices, and a community room and pool. The residential units are all one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, with 18 apartments per building. Here are the preretrofit numbers:

  1. Annual cost for electricity: $77,947 (Xcel Energy). This represents measured usage for the common areas and estimated usage for the individual units.

  2. Annual cost for natural gas: $51,498 (Xcel Energy).

  3. Annual usage: 119 kW; 627,190 kWh; and 8,275 Dth.

At inspection. The buildings have a combination brick and vinyl siding exterior with standard wood-frame construction walls. There is an approximately 4-inch wall cavity with 2-inch fiberglass batt insulation. The entire wall assembly is modeled at an R-8. There are attics over the third story of each building; each attic has between 2 inches of R-6 and 7 inches of R-21 fiberglass batt insulation. The windows are fairly new double-pane units with vinyl frames. Heating is provided by 726 MBH atmospheric hydronic boilers that are 28 years old and DHW is provided by 22-year-old 195 MBH atmospheric hydronic boilers, with a 115-gallon storage tank. Lighting will be updated in the common areas, on the exterior of each building, and in the apartments themselves.

Weatherization measures installed. All heating and domestic hot water boilers were replaced with high-efficiency modulating, condensing hot water boilers that supply reverse indirect domestic water heaters at a total cost of $480,000. In the common areas of all the apartment buildings and the management office, existing T-12 lighting was retrofitted with new electronic ballast, T-8 lamps, and new sockets. All apartments were retrofitted with in-unit lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures, and old refrigerators in 61 apartments were replaced with new Energy Star refrigerators.


Table B. Actual Savings (Overlook at Thornton Apartments)
Table B. Actual Savings (Overlook at Thornton Apartments)
  1. $15,000 from EOC.

  2. $600,000 from state weatherization program (LIHEAP funds).

  3. $60,000 from building owner (a nonprofit affordable-housing developer).

  4. $30,000 from Xcel Energy (the combined utility provider).

Total project predicted annual savings were $32,475, a 27% annual reduction, including 61 kW; 98,300 kWh; and 3,786 Dth. With leveraged financing, we predict a six-year simple payback for the building owner. Actual savings are shown in Table B.

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