On a split vote Tuesday, the Durango City Council adopted the 2015 energy code that will require all new construction in city limits to be more efficient.
Councilors Dean Brookie and Melissa Youssef and Mayor Dick White voted for the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, which governs home efficiency, such as insulation, windows and other systems.
Councilors Sweetie Marbury and Chis Bettin opposed the new code.
Youssef changed her previous position after doing more research and found that homebuyers would benefit in the long term from efficient homes.
“I think the buyer ultimately benefits later on when it comes to resell,” she said.
She also found the cost of housing is driven by the price of land and labor, while investments in efficiency pay back over time.
Bettin suggested that the advocates in the room could work together and negotiate a time frame for adopting a stricter energy code. He said he would support the 2015 or 2018 code if the city held more meetings with stakeholders and worked with them on implementation. Bettin noted that the county went through an exhaustive process before adopting the 2009 energy code.
“I would much rather see the policy come from the people that are doing the work in our community,” he said.
Marbury supported keeping the existing 2009 energy code because the more stringent code would increase the cost of housing and she ran on a platform of encouraging affordability.
“I know too many people that rent and it’s not because they don’t want to buy,” she said.
Durango currently enforces the 2012 building codes and the 2009 energy code. Council voted in November to replace all the 2012 building codes with the 2015 codes on Jan. 1. The new energy code would take effect on July 1. La Plata County recently adopted the 2009 energy code in October.
Before the vote, residents spoke at length on the issue. Some worried the upfront costs of abiding by the 2015 code would make housing more unattainable, while others argued that residents would benefit from the long-term savings of more-efficient homes. Many also supported the long-term climate benefits of more-efficient housing.
Buildings are responsible for about 35 to 40 percent of all emissions, Laurie Dickson, executive director of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, said in a previous interview.
Council intended to adopt stricter codes in 2015 and White emphasized the importance of acting now.
“Every house that gets built is going to be inefficient for its entire life time,” he said.
He also argued that the new codes would create a market for inspectors needed to meet the code and that homeowners would benefit in the long term.
“It is demonstrable that it pays back,” he said.
However, higher home prices could force residents to drive further from town to find housing they can afford, which could undermine some of the environmental benefits, said Lisa Bloomquist Palmer, executive director of the Homes Fund. The nonprofit provides downpayment assistant to homebuyers
“One of the things we want to discourage is people driving ‘til they qualify,” she said.
Members of the building community argued that they were not ready to build to meet the 2015 code and the city wouldn’t have time to prepare to enforce the code.
Ryan Voegeli, president of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado, suggested the city wait and adopt the 2018 code because it is more understandable. “I think your staff is going to have challenges,” Voegeli said of the 2015 codes.
Builders also asked the city to keep the 2009 code because it would be consistent with the code that La Plata County will adopt on Jan. 1.
However, climate advocates focused on the long-term implications of building more-efficient homes.
“Let’s do the right thing for our children and grandchildren and coming generations,” Guinn Unger said.