In Snowmass, there’s more than meets the eye with employee housing. This I learned first-hand as I joined Snowmass Chief Building Official Mark Kittle on his final inspection of a new solar thermal system at the Brush Creek apartments. As we pulled into the parking lot, I could have easily missed three new solar panels mounted atop a recessed roof. And, while the building’s exterior appears somewhat dated, once we lowered ourselves into the crawlspace below building 400 a maze of shiny new copper pipes, gauges, valves, and monitors revealed that the “guts” of the building are anything but.
Brush Creek building 400 joins the Rodeo Place development in a suite of Snowmass employee housing units that showcase the Town’s commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of their buildings—both old and new construction.
“As our housing stock ages and comes due for upgrade, it only makes sense to carry-out improvements that have the biggest bang for the buck,” said Joe Coffey, director of Snowmass housing. “That means reducing energy use is always a key consideration.”
The four buildings that make up the Brush Creek complex were constructed in 1967 as the first employee housing units in Snowmass. They were originally called “The Arbietdorf,” which means “worker housing” in German. In 1980 the Town of Snowmass Village purchased the buildings and performed a full interior and exterior renovation. Since then, the old boilers and hot water heaters have been replaced in three buildings. The heating system in the four hundred building continued to work properly and this was scheduled for replacement in 2012.
But working doesn’t mean working efficiently. The seven apartments in building 400 were heated through one hot water system powered by a 30-year old cast iron boiler with a 270,000 BTU rating for base board hydronic heat (BTU is approximately the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water). The building also had a separate gas hot water heater with an 85,000 BTU rating.
This recently changed thanks to a generous grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. An $8,000 shot in the arm allowed the TOSV Housing Department to replace the cast iron boiler with a new 96 percent efficient boiler, and replace the separate 100 gallon gas hot water heater with a boiler and solar assisted 80-gallon hot water sidearm tank. The three solar thermal panels mounted on the roof will assist in heating the domestic hot water for the building. These panels will greatly reduce the gas needed to heat the building’s water in both winter and summer.
“With an average of 300 days of sunshine each year in Colorado, why not use the sun to heat your water,” Coffey said.
Overall, the upgrades will lead to a 205,000 BTU reduction—the equivalent energy output of 34 air conditioning units.
These improvements are a win-win for both Brush Creek tenants and the Town. Before installing the new systems, the Housing Department improved the efficiency of all buildings by replacing windows and doors, and boosted insulation with caulking and sealing.
“Slapping solar panels on a leaky inefficient building doesn’t make sense,” Coffey said. “We made basic efficiency improvements before upgrading the systems to ensure that we were maximizing tenant comfort, and reaping the best return on our investment.”
To date, conversations around energy efficiency between landlords and tenants have largely revolved around the fact that landlords must pay for upgrades, but tenants receive the immediate benefits. The conflict stemming from “split incentives
” to install upgrades has been identified by area non-profit Rocky Mountain Institute as one of the top barriers to capturing energy savings in buildings. Consequently, leased space has historically lagged behind owner-occupied buildings in pursuing energy efficiency.
Fortunately, this is not the case with Snowmass employee housing. While tenants pay rent and their electric bill, the Town foots the gas bill. Therefore, the more efficiently water is heated in the building—the more the Town saves. This translates into direct savings to tenants as well who will not face a rent increase this year according to Coffey.
“The Town’s commitment to the natural environment, the built environment, the community, and economy are all closely linked,” Coffey said. “Projects like these show that one well timed effort can satisfy all four goals.”