Energy Resource Center is lowering Colorado utility bills 


click to enlarge Adding insulation is just one service ERC offers. - COURTESY ENERGY RESOURCE CENTER
  • Courtesy Energy Resource Center
  • Adding insulation is just one service ERC offers.
When families in Colorado Springs struggle to pay their heating and electric bills, there are many programs that can offer financial help to get them through the month. But the nonprofit Energy Resource Center, headquartered in the Springs, has developed an innovative approach to helping low-income residents with their energy expenses: They reduce them on the front end through high-efficiency home improvements.

The Energy Resource Center has been in Colorado Springs for nearly 40 years, providing income-qualified residents with energy efficient improvements that make their homes healthier, safer and more cost-effective.

It's a multi-step process that begins with a thorough energy assessment of the home, checking for air leaks and drafts, weak water pressure, heating issues and other key indicators that can signal a home needs a tune-up. The initial assessment helps ERC determine what is needed to maximize the efficiency of the home, whether it's insulation in the walls and attic, a new furnace or water heater, new appliances or all of the above.

"We save families an average of 25 percent on their utility bills," says Susan Parker, community relations manager at ERC.

One of the factors that makes ERC unique is that the entire operation is contained within the organization itself. CEO Howard Brooks, who has been with the organization for nine years, refers to ERC as a "nonprofit construction company." Its 34-person team includes HVAC technicians, insulators, inspectors, general carpenters and administrative staff.

"We provide the staff, the equipment, the materials and the labor on every home we improve," says Brooks.

Remodeling a home to make it more efficient isn't cheap, which presents challenges for ERC. Despite grants, government funding and revenue from fee-for-service projects, the organization has a three-year waiting list of residents who qualify for its services. Not only that, the list of counties served keeps growing. As of this year, the Springs ERC headquarters is responsible for supporting eight, including El Paso and the recently added Cheyenne, Lincoln and Kit Carson counties. The Denver and San Luis Valley branch offices together serve another eight.

When it comes to community financial support, Brooks knows that the topic of energy isn't exactly glamorous. It doesn't tug on the heartstrings the way fuzzy kittens and cute kids might. But Brooks points out that those cats and kids have to live somewhere warm and safe at the end of the day.

"It's hard to talk about insulation and keeping people warm and make it inspiring," says Brooks. "But healthy homes are better for families and better for the environment overall."

ERC isn't just into saving money. They're also pretty keen on saving lives. In the back of their warehouse sits a collection of furnaces saved from renovation projects — some from as early as 1938. Many of these relics show damage to key operational components, creating potential fire and electrical hazards, or emitting dangerous carbon monoxide into the homes in which they were installed. During one furnace replacement, ERC found carbon monoxide present in the home. The residents were completely unaware, attributing symptoms to winter illness. Fortunately, the improvements eliminated the issue.

Parker believes that ERC offers a service to the community that is unlike any other — a long-term solution to the problem of energy expenses instead of short-term or one-time help. She finds the work rewarding, but sometimes it's also tough.

"The hardest challenge I face is looking at a waiting-list of people who need our services that we can't help sooner," says Parker. "That's why events like Give! are so important. It helps us to do more faster."

Visit erc-co.org for more information.


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