Summit County officials look to extend training on sustainable building codes as builders struggle to adapt to changes

Construction is underway at The Waters at Silver Trout on Wednesday, Jan. 27 in Silverthorne. Summit County officials are looking to extend the training period for its sustainable code program to help builders come up to speed.
Photo by Elaine Collins

Since Summit County’s updated sustainable building codes went into effect in July 2020, local builders have found themselves scrambling to adjust.

The updated code, which was passed by the Summit Board of County Commissioners in February of last year, requires residential properties to follow Zero Energy Ready Home standards. The standards go along with the county’s 2018 International Energy Conservation Code, which was also adopted in 2020. Taken together, the two codes work to push the county closer to its Climate Action Plan goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The codes, which have also been adopted by Breckenridge, Frisco and Dillon, can be complicated for the average person to comprehend. In short, they require homes built after July 2020 to use less energy than they produce through renewable energy means, such as solar panels.

“It’s based on trying to get a better, more insulated, energy efficient home that looks at not only the amount of energy it would take to heat the home, but also the water quality in the home, the ventilation through the home and some of those different things,” said Scott Hoffman, the county’s chief building official. “As we transition, the idea is that we’re going to make the home better set up to be able to have a renewable energy package to bring the energy use down to zero.”

Although the new codes went into effect in July, the county has yet to issue any updated permits that follow them. The reason for this is largely because the transition has been difficult for local builders, especially during the pandemic.

At a Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26, Hoffman asked the board to consider approving an amendment to the code that would take the training period for builders from six months to 14 months.

“When we went live on it, the thought was that people would be fairly up to speed with what the program entailed,” Hoffman said. “But one of the impacts that we found was that (in) a lot of the projects, people weren’t aware of those requirements.”

So far, Hoffman said the county’s building team has spent a significant amount of time bringing builders up to speed with the new codes. The county only recently started reviewing plans to see if they match what is required by the codes.

The board is expected to review the amendment during a regular session meeting in the coming weeks. The goal of the extended training time is to give builders more of a chance to adapt to the changes.

“They put a lot of new codes in place and the architects, the designers, the suppliers, the vendors, all of those people are affected by these new codes and a lot of them don’t know it’s being put in effect,” said Blake Nudell who sits on the county’s technical advisory board for the new code, owns Travis Construction and is the president of the Summit County Builders Association.

When the new code was first introduced, Nudell said there were a lot of concerns among the building community. First and foremost, the county’s projection that it would only raise building costs by 1% to 2% isn’t accurate when the full transition from the previous building codes to the new codes is taken into account.

Nudell said the true increase in cost is closer to 15% to 20%, when comparing the recent code adoptions to the 2012 building codes that the county had before 2020.

At the time, Nudell said builders were also concerned about how the new codes would work in Summit County’s climate.

“We don’t know for sure that they’re going to work in the climate zone we’re in,” he said. “We’re in one of the coldest climate zones in the United States, and we just felt like there should be more research before the codes were implemented.”

Since raising these concerns with the county and through a letter to the editor published by the Summit Daily News, Nudell said county officials have been very flexible and responsive. He believes an extended training period should give builders enough time to feel confident in the codes and move forward with them.

“Any time we can get is going to be beneficial, but 14 months is a great extension,” he said. “There’s just so much to these new codes.”

If the 14-month extension is approved, Hoffman said it could take until the end of the year for the county to actually see a home that follows the new codes come to fruition.

“If a big issue is on the horizon that I’m not cognizant of, I want to be able to have that flexibility built into the training program,” he said.

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