Colorado lawmakers look to make building codes greener

DENVER — There are less than three days left in the 2022 legislative session and roughly 240 bills that still need action. Some of the last bills left deal with climate issues, including one to require localities to adopt greener building codes in the future.

House Bill 22-1362 calls for municipalities, counties and state agencies to begin to adopt energy performance policies consistent with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code by 2026.

For bill co-sponsors, the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by updating the requirements for new buildings in the state.

“If we plan now and have updated codes, it means we’re going to have more efficient buildings that use less energy from the from the day they open,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.

To do that, the Colorado Energy Office and an energy code board would be tasked with developing model electric and solar-ready code by June 2023 and developing model low-energy and carbon code by June 2025 for localities to adopt.

The bill will not require all future construction to include electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and solar panels moving forward. However, it will require new builds to feature the infrastructure to be able to add them down the line.

“You need to have all the wiring in place, the conduit, all the infrastructure that’s going to allow this transition to accelerate, but you don’t need to spend everything upfront,” Hansen said. “If you do it upfront when you design and construct, it’s way cheaper than if you try to do a retrofit.”

Residential and commercial buildings made up an estimated 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state in 2019, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The bill also calls for new construction to install better insulation and windows. Commercial buildings would be required to have EV charging ready to go for at least 30 percent of its parking spots.

However, there has been quite a bit of opposition from Republicans, builder groups, chambers of commerce, competitive councils, and even some counties. Many worry about the cost of implementing such a requirement. They say new standards will raise the cost of housing in an already skyrocketing market and, while it could lead to eventual savings, people are worried about the expenses they face now.

Others worry about the amount of authority the Colorado Energy Office will have over local governments in requiring these changes.

To help ease those concerns, Hansen says they’ve built in some protections to make sure it’s not going to escalate costs for new construction by more than one percent. Still, many groups remain in an opposed position.

If there’s anyone who knows about the complexities of new building codes, it’s Neal Shah, a trustee for the town of Superior.

Superior lost 378 homes in the Marshall Fire and has been working to rebuild ever since.

“Within the town of Superior, we realized that the efficiency codes have a significant impact on the cost,” Shah said. “I think there’s a tacit acknowledgment if you’re rebuilding after disaster, you’re not necessarily controlling your own destiny.”

Because of the devastating toll of the fire, and the fact that many families were underinsured, the town decided to let the homeowners opt to build using either the 2018 code or the 2021 green building code. Louisville took similar steps to allow for less restrictive building codes after facing backlash from families and businesses affected by the fire.

However, having the code option caused complications with insurance companies.

“The insurance companies, if they see a choice, they’ll default to the lowest cost one,” Shah said.

So, if families wanted to rebuild in a more climate conscious manner, they would have to come up with the money to do so.

For Shah, the importance was in offering families the choice to rebuild as they see fit instead of choosing a one-size-fits-all approach. He says he sees a big problem with a mandate, either from a local or state government, without funding to help implement it.

“We want them to rebuild safe, we want them to rebuild resilient. But if I can’t offer them the funds to do that, then I really cannot be out there telling them that they have to do something,” Shah said.

The bill does have a carveout that states victims of natural disasters will not have to follow the more stringent construction codes. Shah supports that, saying those families need flexibility while new builds can withstand the more updated codes.

The bill also creates two grant programs to help with the process, including one to provide money for local governments, school districts and others to help with the instillation of high-efficiency electric heating equipment.

“We’re also embedding in the bill about $3 million to help local counties and governments be able to update their own codes,” Hansen said.

Right now, there are more than a dozen counties that do not have any energy efficiency codes across the state. A number of others don’t have much staffing in order to come up with or implement the new codes.

Along with the $3 million, the bill would establish the Clean Air Building Investments Fund and calls for $10 million to clean the electrification of public buildings and another $12 million for high-efficiency electric heating and appliances.

The bill has already undergone several major changes, including a complete rewrite in the Senate. It faces one final vote in the Senate before heading back to the House so that lawmakers there can vote one final time on all of the changes the Senate enacted.

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