Sustainable building codes make progress while education efforts continue

Construction at The Waters at Silver Trout is pictured Jan. 27 in Silverthorne. Implementation of the sustainable building codes is going relatively smooth, town officials say, with some kinks needing to be worked out.
Photo by Elaine Collins

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Paul Steinweg’s name.

One year after the Summit Sustainable Building Code was implemented by Summit County and most towns, progress has been made toward bringing more new buildings into compliance.

The code aims to maximize energy efficiency, air quality and water conservation in an effort to work toward goals outlined in the Summit Community Climate Action Plan, which include reducing emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Scott Hoffman, Summit County’s chief building official, said the county is just starting to see the first projects under the new code near completion. The code was implemented July 1, 2020, and while the county initially had a six-month training period for compliance, Hoffman said the grace period was extended to 18 months.

“Naturally, when you bring anything new online that’s impactful, there’s going to be some opportunities for learning and for some slight changes and tweaks … ” Hoffman said. “That’s why we really want to utilize that training time frame and give an opportunity to have some flexibility.”

A technical advisory committee — including stakeholders such as the High Country Conservation Center, building officials, energy raters, sustainability staff and builders — works to address issues with the codes as they come up.

Jessie Burley, sustainability coordinator for the town of Breckenridge, said the town goes to the group to see what solutions have been applied in other situations to determine the best resolution to a problem. The grace period in Breckenridge stayed at the original six-month window, meaning all projects in the town have been required to comply with the new code since January.

“We’re doing our best to try and align the messaging and align how we engage with the public and the energy raters — who are primarily the experts who helped the builders through this process — so that we’re all working toward making this a success,” Burley said.

Burley said there has been a learning curve for town staff and building departments, which she said was to be expected.

When the codes were first put in place last year, Hoffman said the county was providing lots of direction to clientele on how to get into compliance and where to find energy raters to complete inspections. Now, most applications are coming in with the process already complete, he said.

Rick Weinman, a building official with the town of Frisco, said implementation of the codes has gone as anticipated for the town. He said a few minor issues have come up during the inspection process, but he said these issues are no different from ones in the past trying to reach energy code compliance.

Weinman said Frisco has seen about 20 applications for new single-family residences with an energy model completed by local energy raters.

“We now have a few projects that are getting close to the final inspection and (certificate of occupancy) phase, and we look forward to seeing these projects being the first to be completed under the (new code),” Weinman wrote in an email.

Jess Hoover, climate action director at the conservation center, said she’s heard that the transition has been like any other code adoption cycle and that everyone is getting comfortable with the new process.

“We are feeling confident that the codes are going to make a positive impact in our community,” Hoover said. “We are also committed to making the building community feel really confident in them, too, and we are committed to providing whatever additional training local builders and architects might feel they need to be really adept at their designs and their building techniques so that they feel just as confident in the codes as we do.”

Paul Steinweg, with Iron Forest Building Co., said there is a lot of opportunity for continued education with builders, not just on what is required but also why. He said the company has learned a lot throughout the first year already, though he would like a greater understanding of the science behind the code.

“We’re just trying our best to learn in addition to dealing with a very busy materials world right now,” Steinweg said. “We see the value in it for sure but would like some more time to understand it, to see how it works through a whole project as opposed to hitting Project 1 and trying to figure it out while we’re starting Project 2.

“It’s a good initiative. Obviously, we want to be building smarter; we want to be building greener.”

Kevin Berg, with Summit Homes Construction, said the company has been doing well with the codes because it had already been working with energy consultants prior to them being required.

“We were able to utilize them to figure out the most cost effective way to deal with the new requirements of the energy code,” Berg said. “So we’ve been pretty successful in keeping the increased costs to our bottom line pretty low utilizing the energy consultants and modeling services that they provide, and then finding low cost or minimal cost increase alternatives to building to meet the new codes.”

Summit Homes is working to build Smith Ranch in Silverthorne, and while the town has not adopted the news codes, Berg said the company has incorporated some aspects of the new requirements, anticipating the town eventually will adopt them.

Berg said the new codes lead to a significant cost increase — not necessarily by unit but overall because the company builds so many units.

Regardless of the code changes, Burley said building costs have “gone through the roof” based on supply shortages. Steinweg said he has seen increases from both the new codes and the current market.

Despite the higher building costs, Berg said clients have been happy with the performance of their new homes as more people are becoming interested in being energy efficient.

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