Rob Hawkins describes Friday how a recently installed fixture on the roof of the Phippsburg post office building is used to heat water for the building. Solar panels also produce electricity.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Rob Hawkins describes Friday how a recently installed fixture on the roof of the Phippsburg post office building is used to heat water for the building. Solar panels also produce electricity.

Heart of Phippsburg turns green

Post office is running with solar panels, thermal converters

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A maze of pipes fills the basement for the mechanical systems in Rob Hawkins’ building in Phippsburg.

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Rob Hawkins describes the large tanks in the basement that store the heated water.

— It may be hard to tell, but the small building along Colorado Highway 131 in the middle of Phippsburg is on the cutting edge of the green movement.

Owner Rob Hawkins retrofitted the 40-year-old building that houses the Phippsburg post office and Reflections Salon and Spa with more than $59,000 worth of energy-saving appliances and alterations, finishing in November.

Hawkins said the building was heated with coal when he bought it in 2006 but that the particulates in the air left an unhealthy haze.

An architect who has worked on green residential building projects in the Yampa Valley, Hawkins first switched over to a propane heating system. When he heard about a grant to go green, he took the transition several steps further.

At first, he installed fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs and thick insulation. In June, Hawkins applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy Assistance Program to change the building over to solar power. The REAP grant covered 25 percent of the cost of the project, or $14,875.

Maria Conner, officer in charge of the post office, said the building, built in 1970, was originally the Iacovetto plumbing supply store owned by Ray and Louise Iacovetto.

To convert the brick-sided building, Hawkins first had to remove the old coal stoker in the basement. In its place are three 80-gallon tanks for solar thermal exchange tanks, powered by cylindrical units on the roof. Once the water inside reaches 140 degrees, it begins circulating through pipes in the building to provide in-floor heat.

Also on the roof are south-facing solar panels that generate electricity. Hawkins said that since they began operating in late November, the system has generated 247 kilowatt-hours of electricity and has eliminated 420 pounds of carbon emissions.

Hawkins said he heard about the grant in a presentation by the USDA Rural Development office and that without the federal assistance, the project may not have been as fully developed as it is now.

“Without federal incentives, I don’t think I would have done as much as I did,” he said.

He also will get a tax break of as much as 30 percent on the project. The project was installed by JCN Metal Works, Emerald Mountain Energy and Acme Consulting, he said.

Hawkins said the monetary savings of the changes aren’t immediately known because he hasn’t had a bill for a full month yet. Because he’s plugged into the Yampa Valley Electric Association’s grid, he will get paid for any energy produced and not used by the building.

Although cloudy days hamper the efficacy of the system, Hawkins said that overall, the change was worth it.

“It’s been a lot of work, but I think it’s going to be good,” he said.

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