Durango City Councilors are split on whether to adopt a stricter international energy code that would require new construction in city limits be more efficient.
Councilors discussed the issue Monday and agreed to revisit the issue Dec. 5 to allow for more comments from residents.
Councilors Dick White and Dean Brookie supported adopting the 2015 energy code for commercial and residential construction to encourage efficiency and to protect the climate. But councilors Sweetie Marbury and Melissa Youssef expressed concern the new rules would not be consistent with county codes. Councilor Chris Bettin was absent from Monday’s meeting.
Councilors approved the other 2015 building codes, which will likely take effect Jan. 1. If the 2015 energy code is approved in December, it would take effect July 1 to give the construction industry time to adjust.
Durango currently enforces the 2012 building codes and the 2009 energy code. La Plata County recently adopted the 2009 energy code in October.
The 2015 International Energy Conservation Code governs the efficiency of a home, including the insulation, windows and other systems, said Laurie Dickson, executive director of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, said Tuesday.
Meeting the energy code can require a blower-door tests, which depressurizes a home to see how much air can make its way into the home through the outlets and around windows and other areas of the home. It’s hard to say how much abiding by the 2015 would cost, because it depends on the size of the house and the initial design of the house, Dickson said.
For an entry-level house between 1,600 and 2,000 square feet, the new code could add $4,000 to $5,000 to the price of the house, said Ryan Voegeli, president of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado. The additional price could include the cost of a blower-door test.
“We are worried about affordability,” he said.
However, those who can least afford it tend to live in the least energy-efficient homes and spend the highest percentage of their income on utility bills, Dickson said.
During Monday’s meeting, White emphasized that an investment in an energy-efficient home saves residents money over time and helps protect the climate.
“We have made a major commitment to climate. ... This is an opportunity to walk the walk,” he said.
Buildings are responsible for about 35 to 40 percent of all emissions, Dickson said.
The initial cost of a home built to 2015 code standards can be paid back over six years, and then residents will see long-term benefits, White said.
The council considered making the energy code more rigorous two years ago but delayed the decision at the request of the construction industry, White said.
“Change will not happen until we mandate it,” Brookie said.
The only speaker during Monday’s public hearing was Voegeli, who read a letter from his group opposing adoption of the 2015 energy code. The new requirements will add to home costs, and the industry is not ready to implement the code, he said. Adopting the 2015 code would also create disparity between the city and the county energy codes, the letter stated.
Voegeli said the cost of meeting the energy code would add to the already-high cost of construction, a cost that has been exacerbated by hurricanes and wildfires nationally.
“These additional costs will not help reach our goal of attainable housing,” the letter stated.
Youssef said she was concerned about increasing the initial cost of homes and could understand the need for consistency and predictability for builders.
The county plans to replace the 2003 energy code with the 2009 energy code on Jan. 1. The change will make homes 15 percent more efficient, La Plata County’s Building Department Director Butch Knowlton said in an interview Monday.
He said the county had concerns about some of the testing that the 2012 and 2015 codes require and having enough companies in the area to complete those efficiency tests.