Home to the Hip Strip Ballroom, Underground Thrift Store and one of the best lunches in town, the Missoula Senior Center is a beloved community cornerstone. This spring, the Senior Center started sprucing up, saving energy and cutting costs, thanks to a new community partnership with Climate Smart Missoula and Energy Corps.

Mike Sweet, Senior Center board president, approached Climate Smart Missoula last fall to discuss ways the center could increase its energy conservation and sustainability with support from the Energy Corps program, an AmeriCorps affiliate through the Butte-based National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Energy Corps focuses on providing local sustainable energy planning, hands-on energy assistance, and energy education and outreach by sending service members to communities across the state of Montana.

As the Energy Corps member currently serving with Climate Smart Missoula, I saw the Senior Center’s aspirations as an opportunity to utilize both Energy Corps and Climate Smart’s resources.

Energy Corps’ work aligns naturally with Climate Smart’s Energy Smart efforts. According to the 2017 Missoula Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, energy use from our homes and businesses accounts for about half of our community's carbon footprint. Yet energy efficiency exists as a huge but seriously untapped tool for climate action.

According to the International Energy Agency, efficiency and conservation could provide 40 percent of the global emission reductions needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

We know our community can and must do more in this area, and the good news is that energy efficiency is truly a win-win for all involved. At Climate Smart, we are dedicated to sharing resources and steps to reduce your energy use and are actively seeking ways to make this common-sense climate solution a bigger part of our local efforts.

After our conversation with Mike, I began coordinating with NCAT to plan the funding and execution of an LED lighting retrofit of the Senior Center, aiming to replace the building's older fluorescent lights with new, energy-efficient LED light bulbs. LEDs are not only longer lasting (some up to 25 years), but they are significantly more efficient, using as much as 75-90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.

I’ve spent the last few months helping the Senior Center determine what bulbs to purchase and what support they needed to get the job done.

Energy Corps members began work last month at the Missoula Senior Center. (Energy Corps)
Energy Corps members began work last month at the Missoula Senior Center. (Energy Corps)

Last month, we embarked on “phase one” of this project: replacing all the lights on the main floor of building. With help from fellow Energy Corps members and many volunteers from the Missoula Folklore Society, we replaced around 200 bulbs in less than two hours, an impressive show of community initiative.  

For larger buildings like the Senior Center, lighting upgrade projects like this can often pay for themselves very quickly. The replacement of the light bulbs on the main floor is projected to save the Senior Center over $1,000 annually on its energy bills, and the energy savings accrued will even make up for the cost of purchasing the light bulbs in less than a year.

This project will eventually lead to the replacement of all ceiling lights in the building, including in the Underground Thrift Store, which is expected to add an additional $700 in annual savings.

Now if you visit the center for some lively Contra dancing or the popular bingo nights, know you’re being illuminated by more Earth-friendly lighting!

Thanks to the financial support of the Energy Corps program, this phase of the project came at no cost to the Senior Center. The next and final step is to replace the light bulbs in the Underground Thrift Store, which we’re currently planning.

This project is a great step toward a more efficient Missoula Senior Center and community as a whole. Not only will replacing the light bulbs cut costs, but these investments show a commitment to the longevity of this center and an affirmation of its importance here in Missoula.

I am grateful to be able to pursue this project as it’s illustrated the heart and commitment to community sustainability that resides within the Senior Center, the Missoula community, and Montana as a whole. I, Climate Smart Missoula and Energy Corps are excited for the opportunity to continue working with the Senior Center and to develop more energy smart community partnerships.

Anna Weinberg is the Energy Corps-AmeriCorps service member currently serving with Climate Smart Missoula.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

May is Bike Month - see upcoming bike-friendly events HERE.

May 21. Green Drinks. Networking event for Missoulians active in the climate/environmental fields. Goodworks Ventures, 129 W. Alder. 5-8pm.

May 22. Public presentation of draft Downtown Master Plan. Review the draft Plan and offer feedback. Wilma Theater, 5:30-7:30pm.

May 23. Eat Smart Coalition: Presentation on Climate Change, Food & Health. Missoula Food Bank, 9:30am.

May 23. ZERO by FIFTY Community Series: Food & Organics. The next event in this series on different topics related to zero waste in Missoula. Free Cycles, 5-7pm.

May 24. Missoula County Courthouse Green Building Tour. Limited space available - to register, email escherrer@ci.missoula.mt.us. At the Missoula County Courthouse, 3:30-5pm.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more conservation events for 2019 HERE.