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A self-proclaimed “sustainability nerd,” Paul Bony deals with all things related to sustainability as the Director of Energy and Transportation for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve as a resource and a catalyst for building a sustainable community in the Yampa Valley region. As Bony puts it, YVSC “deals with all things sustainable,” from energy and transportation to water, waste diversion, and land-based climate solutions like reforestation.

“If you put 50 different people in a room and asked them to write down their definition of sustainability, you might get 47 different answers,” Bony says. “We look at sustainability as the ability for society to continue over a long period of time. That means making sure your consumption resources are not being outpaced by the ability to replenish those resources. Basically, it’s about using our resources wisely today so we still have resources in the future.”

While Bony loves to deep-dive into the technical and scientific aspects of energy and efficiency, the bottom line is there are many ways to make your home more sustainable that are not so complex—unless you’re talking to a sustainability nerd, of course.

Here are 7 ways to make your home or business as energy efficient as possible.

New Construction
With new construction, you have a clean slate and every opportunity to be as energy efficient as possible. “Sustainable building has come a long way, and many of Steamboat’s architects are LEED certified and focused on sustainable design,” Bony says. “They can incorporate things like passive solar, water use design and choose sustainable materials and finishes.”

Sustainable Materials
The general rule for what makes materials sustainable is where they come from and how they are made. Anything locally sourced is going to be preferable over something that had to be shipped long distances, and organic materials are always preferable over synthetic. “For example, wood is more sustainable than concrete, and locally sourced wood is more sustainable than something imported from the Amazon,” Bony says. “The more processed something is, the more glue chemicals it contains, which then produces harmful off-gas vapors in your home. The closer the material is to the land, the more sustainable, and the more natural the materials, the more sustainable the construction,” Bony says.

Electric Heat
Steamboat is one of the coldest cities in Colorado and our heat source is going to be a huge factor in how sustainable our homes are. Electric heat is preferable over something like natural gas or propane, which is a finite resource and has a climate impact. “Low carbon or no carbon energy like electricity is important because it reduces our carbon footprint and the impact on the environment as our energy grid combines to increase renewable energy sources,” Bony says. He recommends upgrading to a heat pump from baseboard heat for more efficient electric heating that is also low carbon. “A heat pump moves energy rather than burning energy. It converts mechanical energy into thermal energy, which is going to be more efficient and a lot less expensive.”

Passive Solar
“Using solar energy, or heat from the sun, is always going to be the most sustainable,” Bony says. Even though it’s cold, the high-altitude sun provides ample radiant heat. “With a passive solar home, 90% of your energy needs can come from the sun shining during the day. To maximize sunlight, you want a home that is oriented east/west with more windows on the south side than the north,” Bony says. “Wherever you can, you want to incorporate solar gain.”

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones, but they should make sure they have high performance windows with good glazing. “Architects love to design houses with floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize the views, but heat loss also tends to be in the windows, so it’s really important to use high performance glass with good glazing and low u-value.” Bony explains that u-value, or u-factor, measures how well a window insulates. A low u-value is going to be more optimal than a high u-value window.

Bony says most houses don’t have enough insulation. “Air leakage is the highest source of energy use, so it’s important to examine all the ways you can lose air through doors and windows and try to maximize air sealing,” Bony says. Insulation performance is measured with R-value, and the higher, the better. “You want high R-value in ceilings, walls, and crawl space or basement to trap heat in the winter and keep things cool in the summer.” The type of material used for insulation is important, too. “There are so many sustainable options these days, like cellulose insulation which is made from ground-up boxes and newspapers which works better than fiberglass,” Bony says.

Quick, inexpensive fixes
A quick and easy fix is to upgrade all your old appliances with Energy Star appliances. Another easy and inexpensive tool is a smart thermostat. “If you’re not home, you don’t need to keep the home as warm. Thermal drapes that are insulating are also going to reduce heat loss. “A good window treatment or covering can go a long way, both for trapping heat in the winter and keeping the home cool in the summer,” Bony says.

The really good news? YVSC provides a low-cost home assessment, the best first step in doing your part to make your home more sustainable. //yvsc.org