By Andy Stonehouse

Interested in helping to cut down on your ever-increasing Colorado power and utility bills? There are a variety of steps you can take to help deal with rising costs and add a bit of environmental-efficiency at the same time.

Consider AC alternatives

Yes, last summer was the hottest on record, and if you’re already concerned about another sweltering Colorado summer, Jeff Richard of Northern Colorado Air says you might consider some new options. You may be surprised to learn that the old-fashioned standby, evaporative coolers, have become less and less effective, thanks to Colorado’s population growth.

“Evaporative coolers used to work great around here and were more efficient, but as summers have become more humid in the Front Range, they don’t work as well,” he says. “When we had a climate more similar to Arizona or New Mexico, they worked wonderfully, but now that there’s so much development and water used for landscaping, they don’t perform as well. And while they are more efficient, use less water and are less expensive overall, they’re also bad in fire season as they draw smoke and allergens directly into your house.”

Air conditioning technology has become more energy efficient, as well as offering HEPA-grade air filtering, but Richard says he’s also keen on some new alternatives. Split systems that are supplemented by individual-room evaporative/refrigerated units are becoming popular. There’s no duct work required and they provide quiet, discrete cooling that works in zones. 

Richard says this winter’s big gas bills also have produced lots of interest in heat pump systems, which can provide high-efficiency electrical heating through the fall months. 

Make energy-efficient upgrades

If you’re one of many Coloradoans living an older home, you’ve discovered that vintage buildings usually have inefficient vintage features. Outdated single-pane windows, older appliances and insulations issues can all lead to bigger bills.

The federal Energy Star programs offer incentives – in the form of tax credits, plus the resulting long-term utility savings – to upgrade to energy efficient appliances and make energy-saving building upgrades. You’ll see the Energy Star labels on household appliances.

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, federal tax credits of up to $3,200 a year are available if homeowners invest in improved insulation, better doors and windows, heat pumps and heat pump water heaters, as well as electrical panel upgrades.

Homeowners can also access the Residential Clean Energy credit, offering a 30% tax credit for investments in solar, wind or geothermal energy equipment, plus heat pumps and electrical battery storage. There’s also been an extension of the Federal Solar Investment Tax credit, allowing a 26% tax credit for systems installed this calendar year. And, the Colorado Solar Sales Tax Exemption means there are no state sales taxes on the purchase of solar equipment.

Solar systems typically cost between $13,000 and $18,000 to install. But in addition to the tax incentives, new systems are typically so efficient that you can be credited to feed the power you don’t need back into the electrical grid through the net metering program.

Ditch the Kentucky  bluegrass

At long last, many folks are becoming aware that the high-desert climate of the Front Range is not an ideal spot for the kinds of landscaping you might find in rainier parts of the country. Xeriscape gardening and using plants, shrubs and grasses native to the state, allows homeowners to create an attractive environment that’s not dependent on heavy watering.

If you’re looking for ideas, visit the demonstration gardens around the Natural Resource Building at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. The project, part of the CSU Extension program, features a Plant Select garden, which tests out which plants are best suited for the Front Range. There’s also a native plant garden, a grass, crop and pollinator garden and the “Rock and Hell” strip garden, which shows how even the most dry and difficult areas around a parking lot can become lush spots, with the appropriate plants.