Ask Eartha: What to know about the new sustainable building codes |

Ask Eartha: What to know about the new sustainable building codes

A construction worker takes measurements at a residential construction site April 20 in Frisco.
Jason Connolly /

Dear Eartha, 
I’ve been hearing some rumblings about new construction codes in the county. As a local Realtor, what should I know about these updated codes? Will these changes improve the energy efficiency of new homes? 

With a new set of codes in effect across the community, sustainable construction has certainly taken a step forward. The Summit Community Climate Action Plan, developed in 2018, shows that roughly two-thirds of our carbon emissions come from our buildings. With such a significant opportunity for emissions reduction, our community has placed an emphasis on updating our codes to ensure the future of housing in Summit County is readying us to meet the goals of the Climate Action Plan. 

Over the past several decades, building science has made impressive progress in developing new energy-efficient products and even improving the recipe for how we construct a home. We really start to see these advancements take off in markets subject to higher energy costs or in harsh climate zones. Driven by client demand, builders are tasked with an ongoing challenge to build homes that last longer, cost less to operate, and promote healthier indoor living environments. A prime example of such a community of builders is right here in Summit County. 

As the municipalities across Summit County adopted the latest rendition of the International Energy Conservation Code, we’re excited to continue to push our local construction industry toward a more efficient future. Furthermore, most jurisdictions across Summit have elected to take efficiency a step further with the Summit Sustainable Building Code. This code was first introduced to our community in 2012, and the newest rendition went into effect July 1. 

What is it? 

The new sustainable code challenges architects and builders to think beyond energy efficiency by focusing on improving indoor air quality and reducing water consumption. To help achieve these goals, the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program incorporates ventilation requirements to ensure our indoor air is kept clean and healthy. It includes requirements for water-efficient appliances, toilets, shower heads and even ensures the plumbing system in the home is designed to deliver hot water quickly to all these appliances. Along with mandating a well-insulated, energy-efficient home, the sustainable code ensures new homes come with the infrastructure for solar panels and electric vehicle charging. Through these efforts, if a homeowner in the future decides they would like to install a charging station for their electric car or solar panels on the roof, the cost to do so will be substantially less. 

Beyond energy and water savings 

The benefits of a home built under the new sustainable code extend beyond utility bill savings. While homeowners will be excited to live in a home that consumes less resources, they will love the fact that their new home was constructed with their health and safety in mind. On average, our indoor environments are two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. With the average American spending 90% of their life indoors, the air quality within our homes is a major opportunity to improve our health. Along with improving ventilation, the new code helps ensure the air in our crawlspaces, attics and garages is kept clean and that harmful pollutants aren’t introduced into our living environments. 

An exciting reality of the new sustainable code is that these aspects of home performance will need to be considered early and often, rather than as an afterthought once a project breaks ground. Building a sustainable home begins with considerations of window type and placement, insulation levels, air tightness and water efficiency, all of which are thought out during the initial stages of design. Ultimately, the goal in building a sustainable home is to reduce operating costs, conserve resources and live in a healthier environment. Building a high-performance home will yield years of low-maintenance, comfortable living and will keep our team of energy auditors busy working on the existing homes plagued with these very issues. 

Editor’s note: The Summit County Builders Association has expressed concerns about the building cost increases associated with the codes. Breckenridge’s chief building official estimated the cost increases at 1% to 2%.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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