January 2, 2019

Hot water flowing again for single mom in Rifle

CARE program identifies complex problem in crawlspace; local contractor handles repairs

The CARE program provided a new energy-efficient refrigerator for Cristal Aguirre Anchondo and her son Jonathan, 7 months.
Photo by Kelley Cox

A single mother in Rifle has a functioning hot water heater, after three months of making do, thanks to Garfield Clean Energy, CLEER, the CARE program and the generosity of U.S. Boiler and Plumbing of Silt.

“It’s pretty awesome to know there are people that are willing to help. I am so thankful for that,” said Cristal Aguirre Anchondo, 25.

Back in September 2018, the tank water heater in the crawlspace under her townhome on Meadow Circle in Rifle failed.

“All of a sudden, the hot water didn’t come out,” said Aguirre, who has a seven-month-old baby.

She called U.S. Boiler and Plumbing to ask about repairs. Nikki Swick, U.S. Boiler’s dispatcher, knew there would be resources to help the young mother. Swick encouraged Aguirre to contact Brandon Jones, an energy consultant for CLEER, which manages the CARE program in Garfield County.

CARE is a regional program that provides free home energy efficiency upgrades to income-qualified families. Funding for CARE is provided by Energy Outreach Colorado, Xcel Energy and other energy utilities in the region. CLEER and Garfield Clean Energy piloted CARE in Garfield County in 2015; since then it has expanded to serve 40 counties. From 2015 through 2018, CARE provided efficiency upgrades for 255 households in Garfield County.

After hearing from Aguirre, Jones quickly scheduled a home energy visit, a free basic service provided by CARE. He installed LED light bulbs and faucet aerators, arranged for her to receive a new energy-efficient refrigerator, and sized up the water heater problem.

Groundwater had seeped in and flooded the crawlspace around the heater. Two other abandoned water heaters were nearby, indicating a recurring problem.

Aguirre purchased the townhouse in 2016. “This problem had been going on for years, but no one said anything about it,” she said.

Jones could see that fixing this problem wasn’t going to be simple, and it was likely to cost serious money.

He worked with Rick Shaffer, owner of U.S. Boiler and Plumbing, to plan a permanent solution. Shaffer advised installing a sump pump and vapor barrier in the crawlspace, where the furnace is also located, and installing an energy-efficient on-demand water heater in the garage.

The project bid came in at $7,186.

“There’s no way I could pay that,” recalled Aguirre, who works as a housekeeper in Aspen. She tried to get a loan, but couldn’t qualify. She remembers thinking, “I don’t know what I am going to do.”

Meanwhile, Jones combed the local CARE budget, talked with CARE program managers at Energy Outreach Colorado, and conferred with Shaffer. In November, he called Aguirre to explain the plan.

Cristal Aguirre Anchondo uses hot water to wash up a bottle for her infant son Jonathan. The single mother has a working hot water system in her Rifle home after three months of making do. Photo by Kelley Cox

Cristal Aguirre Anchondo uses hot water to wash up a bottle for her infant son Jonathan. The single mother has a working hot water system in her Rifle home after three months of making do.
Photo by Kelley Cox

Jones would use $2,700 from the local CARE budget, funded by Energy Outreach Colorado, and another $1,000 from Energy Outreach’s health and safety fund. The water heater qualified for a $300 rebate from Xcel Energy. And U.S. Boiler and Plumbing offered to cover the entire $2,700 cost of purchasing and installing the sump pump and vapor barrier.

“From time to time, we find these people who really need help, and we try to step up on that level,” Shaffer said. “In 2018, we did probably $20,000 in donated services to families needing help with furnace repairs, furnace replacements and water leaks.

“We are a for-profit business, but you don’t want to turn your back on people who truly need help. We are trying to set the example,” he added.

“Thanks to their expertise and generosity, U.S. Boiler and Plumbing made hot water possible for Aguirre and her son,” Jones said. “Not only was the company able to identify a permanent solution to the crawlspace flooding, but they donated it.”

The combined funding left a balance of $486, paid by Aguirre. “I was, like, wow!” she said.

U.S. Boiler had a packed fall schedule, so the job was scheduled for December. In the meantime, Aguirre and her seven-month-old son Jonathan continued to bathe at her parents’ home in New Castle, and she heated water on the stove for dishwashing.

The first week of December, the U.S. Boiler crew removed all three failed water heaters, dug a sump pit and installed the sump pump, and covered the crawlspace dirt with a vapor barrier of thick plastic sheeting. The crew installed a Navien tankless on-demand water heater, which features a totally sealed combustion chamber and a high Energy Star rating, in the garage.

Now Aguirre has plenty of hot water for showers, baths for Jonathan, dishwashing and cleaning.

It’s too early to know whether Aguirre will see a change in her natural gas bill, but she has peace of mind knowing her new hot water system won’t fail.

The CARE program continues to provide free home energy visits and energy efficiency upgrades to income-qualified households across Garfield County. To learn more, contact CLEER at 704-9200, or click here.