COLUMBIA — In an effort to combat the rising cost of energy, a contractor for the Columbia Housing Authority will install 404 energy-efficient windows in Paquin Tower.
“A building like Paquin uses a lot of electricity to heat and cool,” Paquin site manager Lee Radtke said. “The new windows should help cut down energy costs. We also hope to keep the temperature better regulated in each unit.”
The project has been in the works for many years, but a lack of money pushed it to the back burner.
“We have had this planned for about eight years,” said Greg Willingham, the housing authority’s modernization coordinator. “It was originally scheduled for 2011, but because of the increase in cost of energy, we decided last year that this was going to be a project we’d have to move up.”
When they prepared the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, housing authority officials had to account for a 33 percent increase in the cost of natural gas to heat Paquin Tower. What cost $90,000 last year will cost an estimated $120,000 this year.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring housing authorities across the nation to move toward more energy-efficient practices. Because energy costs nationwide have been rising and the federal housing department helps local housing authorities cover the cost of utilities, the housing authority has sped up plans for green renovations.
“This is not what we do every day,” Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the housing authority, said. “But I feel the windows will help us save money and cut utility costs.”
But choosing the windows was no easy matter. Because Paquin Tower houses both elderly residents and people with disabilities and limited mobility, the windows had to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For instance, the windows slide open from right to left rather than up and down to allow people with limited mobility to open them.
The windows also must be able to withstand strong winds and the slight swaying of the high-rise. In addition, the windows must to be installed from the inside to keep costs low.
Past renovations at Paquin, such as the complete re-tiling of apartment floors, have required residents to pack all their belongings. While replacing the windows will not require residents to remove anything from the apartments, the housing authority is striving to ensure residents will be disturbed as little as possible.
Still, Radtke is concerned. “From my position, it is a logistics problem,” she said. “Some people are anxious about the interruption.”
In a test installation, it took 2 1/2 to three hours to replace the windows in each apartment, Seinhaus said.
“We want them to be able to get in, replace the window and get out with minimal impact to our residents,” Steinhaus said.
Though the contract continues until Nov. 19, Willingham hopes the work will be done by the start of the heating season in early November. Last winter, the housing authority averaged $16,500 in gas bills per month to heat Paquin Tower. That includes hot water, operation of the laundromat and heating apartments, entryways and common areas.
“Installing windows is going to reduce the amount of money the housing authority is spending to heat the rooms that residents occupy,” Wellingham said.
Although it won’t be clear how much money the new windows will save until November, officials know from other projects geared toward energy efficiency that it’s worth their while.
“We switched all of the light bulbs in Paquin and Oak Towers to compact fluorescent and expect to save $130,000 over the next seven years,” Steinhaus said.
In their efforts to go green, the authority has also agreed to recycle all the glass and aluminum from the old windows.
“We are definitely looking more towards green improvements and energy efficiency,” Willingham said. “We’ve been doing that for years now.”