Apartment Upgrades In Windom, Harmony, and Buffalo Offer Savings For Residents

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From the 1960s to the 1980s many affordable housing projects were developed. As these units have begun to age, they require frequent repair and upgrades to address health, safety, and energy efficiency concerns. The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) found that incorporating energy efficiency measures into its housing accommodations was a win-win plan.

Projects focused on updating lighting, weatherization, and HVAC improved three apartment complexes in MN
Projects focused on updating lighting, weatherization, and HVAC improved three apartment complexes in MN

SWMHP is a non-profit community development corporation serving thirty counties in rural Minnesota. The organization’s goal is to build strong and healthy places to live so that communities in southern Minnesota can thrive.

A new addition to this overarching goal is a commitment to sustainable housing practices. The SWMHP was working on a portfolio of projects called Zedakah, which included seven properties in their service area. At first the SWMHP was looking at HOME (Home Investment Partnerships Program) funding, but found that this grant did not fit all its needs and researched additional funding sources.

When they heard about the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program, they were pleased to find that it supported their plans for energy efficiency rehabilitation of several Zedakah properties. SWMHP also determined that money saved in the long term would outweigh the cost of the project for both parties involved (the SWMHP and the residents), allowing the housing partnership to invest the savings into future repairs and upgrades, and allowing residents to put the savings toward other basic needs.
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This project encompassed energy upgrades to apartment complexes in Windom (Windom Apartments), Harmony (Harmony Manor Apartments), and Buffalo (Woodmere Apartments). The Windom Economic Development Authority (EDA) was a conduit for communication on the project, with Windom serving as the lead city throughout the project.

Several different funding sources came together to help with various aspects of the rehabilitation and energy efficiency upgrades. The total cost of the project was $1,528,870, of which $166,000 was EECBG-funded. The EECBG money was used at all three properties, and covered projects from window replacement to HVAC renovation. Other sources of funding came from HOME, Community Action Agencies, and Neighborworks America.

SWMHP Chief Operating Officer, Lisa Graphenteen, noted that there were some logistical challenges to implementing such a wide-scale project. “The funding sources did not always line up in regards to commencement and completion date requirements, so a contractor who could have completed all the work [earlier] needed to come back when a funding source became available,” she said. Graphenteen also noted that having three different communities at which to simultaneously coordinate projects was difficult at times.

When asked what worked well, Graphenteen reported, “Minnesota Department of Commerce staff was flexible. When all the dollars were not needed on the original properties (Windom and Harmony), they helped figure out how to utilize the funds with the property in Buffalo.”

Projects completed at the three apartment complexes addressed a variety of energy efficiency shortcomings. At the Windom apartment complex, old boilers were replaced with 94% efficient ones and controls were installed to better distribute heating. Furthermore, attic bypasses were sealed and the attic was reinsulated. Windows and doors were also weather-stripped to prevent drafts.

The Harmony building saw the replacement of 20 T12 lamps using magnetic ballasts with T8 25W lamps using electronic ballasts, 20 incandescent lamps with CFL bulbs, and new LED exit signs were installed. At least 25 windows in the complex were replaced and the attic was reinsulated to diminish draftiness. Changes took place on a smaller-scale level as well: ENERGY STAR–rated refrigerators replaced old units and temperature controls were installed in each of the apartments throughout the building.

The Buffalo apartments went through major window renovations as 140 windows were replaced with U-0.35 new windows.

While final energy savings data won’t be available until the end of 2012, SWMHP has set a new precedent in the area of energy efficiency for affordable housing units. With the help of EECBG funding, SWMHP has begun to hold itself to a high standard in providing healthy, affordable, and efficient living at its properties.

Cost Breakdown:

  • EECBG: $166,000 used at three sites.
  • Community Action Agencies: $171,126 for weatherization in Windom and Harmony.
  • Neighborworks America: $69,684 was used on two properties: Harmony and Buffalo. The funds for the Buffalo property (Woodmere Apartments) were used for doors, insulation, A/C covers, CO2 and smoke detectors, boilers, and water heaters.
  • HOME: $1,122,060 covered rehabilitation and energy efficiency of the parking lot, cabinets, roof, carpet, paint, appliances, elevator, mechanical, smoke detectors, siding, plumbing, and windows in Buffalo and Harmony.

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts in order to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

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