Award will Improve Efficiency in two Decorah Apartment Buildings

By Paul Cutting, Energy Planner

DECORAH – With help from the Winneshiek Energy District and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, the City of Decorah applied for $233,638 from the Iowa Development Authority’s Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program. The city was recently notified that its grant request was successful.

The project will provide cold climate ductless heat pumps at two Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation properties in Decorah—the 15-unit Woolen Mill apartment building located downtown Decorah, and the 16-unit Washington Court apartment building at 600 Washington Street. The grant will also enable Decorah households to access energy coaching services with the goal of connecting them to tax credits and point of sale rebates provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Woolen Mill Energy Upgrades

The Woolen Mill apartment building was originally constructed in 1867 and was renovated into 15 apartments in 2002, many of which serve lower income households. At the time of its renovation in 2002, the entire building was equipped with electric resistance heat, with each tenant paying their own electricity and Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation (NEICAC) responsible for common area and hallway heating and cooling. The building was also outfitted with primitive ductless air conditioning, but most units have since failed. Most tenants now rely on window air conditioners.

Tenant electricity costs have escalated over time, in part due to significant increases in electricity rates, and also because the building’s exterior windows are leaky and approaching their end of life. As part of Winneshiek Energy District’s involvement in this project, we analyzed electric bills for both energy and cost savings, assisted with appropriate heat pump selection, and helped secure contractor quotes.

Last year, electricity bills at Woolen Mill for single-bedroom units averaged $90-$120/month, whereas two-bedroom units averaged $120-$140/month. The installation of new electric air source heat pumps with seasonally averaged efficiencies of 275-300% relative to electric resistance heating should reduce tenant electric bills by at least $35/month per unit. Building-wide (including NEICAC’s expenses for heating and cooling common areas), the new heat pumps should reduce annual energy consumption by 43,500 kWh and energy bills by $7,220. 

Washington Court Energy Upgrades

The other building to benefit from this project, the 16-unit senior housing named Washington Court, was built in 1996 and utilizes electric resistance heating and through-the-wall window air conditioning. Tenant electricity expenses are significantly less than Woolen Mill, in part due to the building being in generally better condition, of newer construction, and with lower ceilings.

Last year, tenant electricity expenses averaged $71/month, and it is anticipated bills will decrease to $51/month once new heat pumps are installed. Building-wide, the heat pumps are anticipated to save 18,320 kWh annually, or $3,800. 

Free Energy Coaching for Low Income Households

The EECBG grant award will also help lower-income Decorah households access free energy coaching to help them identify opportunities for efficiency improvements and savings through tax credits and rebates funded by the IRA. Look for news about both programs in the coming months.

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