Building officials try to find heating leak at Highlands |

Building officials try to find heating leak at Highlands

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Experts are still trying to track down a leak in the heating system for a building at Aspen Highlands Village that threatened to leave 13 households without heat last weekend.

City officials scrambled Friday to see what they could offer in terms of housing in case the Colorado Department of Health ordered the building’s heating system shut down, but it never came to that.

“The good news is, we were able to reduce the flow rate of the system while we try to pinpoint the leak,” said Gary Beach, manager for the village’s metropolitan district. “It’s such a small leak right now, it doesn’t warrant displacing 13 families from their homes.”

Nonetheless, the city was prepared to open vacant apartments at its Truscott Place affordable housing complex to anyone from Highlands who had nowhere else to go.

“They’re unfurnished, but at least it was a warm place to be, if push came to shove,” said Ed Sadler, assistant city manager. “We didn’t want 13 families, possibly, over a long weekend, with no heat.”

The 13 residences are all deed-restricted worker housing located in the Wille Residence at Aspen Highlands Village.

The Wille Residence and the Maroon Creek Station building in the village share a boiler located in Maroon Creek Station. The loss of pressure in the system is occurring on the Wille Residence side, according to Beach. Experts believe they have narrowed it down to one of six different internal loops in the building, he said.

“We were concerned initially that the leak might be in the supply line or the return line,” Beach said. Both are 2.5-inch pipes buried in the ground, connecting the two buildings.

The system runs a mixture of about 30 percent propylene glycol (antifreeze) and 70 percent water through a maze of pipes in the walls of the Wille Residence to generate baseboard heat in the individual units. An automatic feeder system adds glycol as needed, according to Steve Elliott, manager of the Wille Residence Homeowners Association.

“We noticed in mid-December it was really slurping up the glycol,” he said.

The state health department’s Water Quality Control Division, concerned that propylene glycol could be seeping into the ground, indicated last Thursday that the system would have to be shut down by Friday at 5 p.m. if the situation wasn’t addressed.

“We were concerned that it had been leaking for some time,” said Tom Schaffer, the division’s West Slope field office supervisor.

Tests on Friday, however, indicated the leak was not in the underground line, Schaffer said. If it’s contained within the building, it’s not a concern from the division’s standpoint, he said.

“It’s our understanding at this point that the line between the two buildings ? and that’s the only part in the ground ? is not leaking,” Schaffer said yesterday.

In fact, since the pressure in the system was lowered on Friday, the fluid loss has been virtually eliminated, Elliott said.

Meanwhile, the contractor and plumbing subcontractor for the Wille Residence are continuing to try to figure out where the system is leaking. The building opened a little more than a year ago.

“We haven’t found the leak, we haven’t repaired the leak, but now it’s losing minimal fluid,” Elliott said.

The type of glycol being used in the system is not considered hazardous to people, according to Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director. Cassin’s office checked with state officials and the national Poison Control Center and determined the leak posed no threat to residents of the building, she said.

The glycol can, however, kill fish, Cassin said.

“The concern the state health department had was whether it might be getting into the soil and being carried by ground water into Maroon Creek,” she said.

Where the leaking fluid has been going remains a concern for the city’s environmental staff, Cassin said.

“The system had been losing 25 gallons a day since December 16. That’s what we were told by the people servicing the system,” said Steve Saunders, a resident of the building. “We’re concerned. Where is this stuff going?”

Schaffer said his office received a report from a consultant working on the problem that indicated the system was leaking .016 gallons of the glycol/water mixture per minute, or about 23 gallons per day.

Saunders said he’s also worried the homeowners association will wind up footing the bill for both the search for the leak and the repairs, if the warranty for the system doesn’t cover the problem.

“We don’t have near enough money in capital improvements for what is an exorbitant expense,” he said. “There is a bill already floating around for them trying to locate this leak.”

Elliott couldn’t provide an exact sum of the cost of the work done to date, but estimated the search for the leak will total several thousand dollars.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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