Environmental building codes going on the books

Housing construction in Northern Colorado is still reeling from the global markets crash, but the news is not all bad. In fact, in many municipalities the news is green.

The decline in building permit numbers in the past few years is allowing inspectors and officials to re-evaluate residential building codes and implement some new environmentally friendly aspects.

The town of Windsor is hoping builders pull 120 permits in 2009 – the same number as 2008. The figure is down from the record high of 451 permits in both 2000 and 2005. Joe Plummer, Windsor’s planning director, is using the decline to evaluate the town’s building codes and is leading the effort to add more environmentally friendly practices into them.

“We are currently researching what other local jurisdictions have done and are discussing elective versus mandatory changes and to what degree we want to change before we bring it before the town board,” Plummer said. “We have met with some local builders and developers, the (Northern Colorado Home Builders Association) and different jurisdictions to see what they are doing. The reactions have been mixed. In general people are saying the changes should be elective.”

Builders are not opposed to greening up the codes. They just don’t want the cost to drastically diminish the amount of green in their pockets.

“The cost of truly going green can add 18 to 22 percent to the home,´ said Jeff Schneider, Northern Colorado Home Builders Association’s director of government affairs and president of Armstead Construction. “We can’t increase cost and increase the value outside of the market. Otherwise we can’t get mortgages and appraisers on board … there are different costs for being green and those costs can’t be measured using square feet.”

Schneider, who is actively working with local governments on code changes, said the HBA is fully behind the changes and is willing to do whatever is deemed necessary to do its part as a professional organization to help.

“We hope for elective energy consumption limits, not mandates, and we don’t want them to dictate how much recycling we have to do,” he said. “We can’t reuse some products because they don’t meet today’s energy ratings.”

Green throughout the region

Windsor is not the only town reviewing its building codes and adding “green” aspects – Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley are all reviewing their codes. These municipalities adopt codes provided by the International Code Council, which re-evaluates its codes every three years and has just released the 2009 version.

According to the council’s Web site, “Containing more energy efficiency provisions than ever before, the 2009 IECC is projected to achieve a 15 percent increase in energy savings in comparison to the 2006 edition.”

Greeley officials want to ensure the city’s codes continue to meet I-code and other requirements.

“The state required some energy efficient changes in April of last year and we are meeting those,´ said Becky Safarik, community development director for the city. “We want to make sure we are in line with the region and the state.”

Fort Collins is working toward setting the city’s specific green codes with its Green Building Fort Collins program. The program was born out of an increase in buildings being built locally under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED standards.

“We started seeing a need four to five years ago,´ said Dana Leavitt, program manager for the Fort Collins Green Building program. “We have seen more LEED projects going up and there are more certified design professionals around. Consumers became more aware and the ideas were promoted more, so we needed to have more programs in place on the city side.”

Fort Collins is also in the beginning stages of adapting the new I-codes to fit the local need. Northern Colorado is in a special wind district and Larimer County is considered a moderate hail exposure area. The area’s geography prevents all I-codes from being adopted as a package, and most municipalities will spend 2009 adapting them to fit their specific need.

“We have a construction advisory board reviewing the new 2009 codes before they are adopted,´ said Thomas Hawkinson, building official and staff liaison to the construction advisory board for the city of Loveland. “The board consists of 11 members and is representative of all building trades. The subcommittees will then review before the codes are brought before the city council later this year.”