Buyers will be paying thousands of dollars more for newly built homes in Durango and La Plata County as a result of energy codes local governments started enforcing this year.
However, the increased efficiency can lower utility costs for residents in the long term and reduce the carbon footprint from homes.
“People buying homes are all demanding and have been demanding better energy efficiency,” said Butch Knowlton, director of the La Plata County Building Department.
The energy codes govern aspects of a building’s energy efficiency, such as insulation, windows and how much air escapes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Nationally, homes are responsible for 22 percent of energy consumption and commercial buildings account for 18 percent, said Kim Burke, a senior program manager at the Colorado Energy Office.
“Reducing home energy consumption reduces the dependence on fossil fuels, immediately reducing carbon emissions,” said Laurie Dickson, executive director of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency. Carbon is one of the key contributors to climate change.
Durango started enforcing the 2015 energy codes in October, in place of the 2009 energy codes. La Plata County started enforcing the 2009 energy codes in January, in place of the 2003 energy codes.
The city typically updates its building codes every three years. The county doesn’t adopt new codes as often, in part, because it drives up cost, Knowlton said.
The difference in cost between meeting the 2009 energy codes and the 2015 codes is between $1,500 and $2,800 in Colorado, according to an analysis by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The estimates vary based on the climate where the home is built and the type of foundation on which a home is built.
Residents who buy homes that meet the 2015 codes can expect to recoup their investment in the first few years, Dickson said.
In the first year, a 2015 energy code-compliant home will save the owner about $318, said Imogen Ainswoth, sustainability coordinator for the city of Durango.
Over 30 years, homes meeting the 2015 energy codes will save homeowners in Colorado between $4,200 to $6,500 compared with homes meeting the 2009 codes, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found.
However, the community and building industry in La Plata County were not prepared to adopt the 2015 energy codes, Knowlton said.
“I knew that stepping from the 2003 (codes) to 2015 (codes) was a huge, huge step,” he said.
Builders in the county are still working to adapt to the 2009 energy code, and it has contributed to a steep increase in the number of inspections the county building department is completing, he said. The county is also seeing an increase in large and complex homes, and that is leading to the rise in inspections as well, he said.
The department completed 2,867 inspections from January through September last year and 3,509 in the same period this year, a rise of 22 percent, county data show.
But the pace of homebuilding in La Plata County is the same as last year.
La Plata County approved 196 single-family homes and 62 mobile homes in 2017. This year from January through November, the county has approved 171 single-family homes and 47 mobile homes, according to county data.
Those who buy a home compliant with the 2009 energy code can expect to see long-term savings in utility costs compared with homes built to earlier standards. A comparison of the 2009 energy code with the 2006 energy code found it saved homeowners about $2,466 over 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.