Workshop helps Summit building community get more familiar with Zero Energy Ready Homes program
Several stakeholders, including the High Country Conservation Center and Summit County government, came together to hold a workshop on Zero Energy Ready Homes for the Summit building community Nov. 18.
The Summit Sustainable Building 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. In order to reach these goals, all future homes need to be Zero Energy Ready.
In a room of about 40 builders, designers and architects, Zero Energy Ready Homes trainer Robby Schwarz explained the details of the program and answered questions from local builders and designers.
“With his background in building science, he was really able to explain why certain things are required the way that they are, and we really got deep into some of the questions that have been coming up from a building science perspective,” conservation center Climate Action Director Jess Hoover said about the workshop.
Stephen Oppito, with Pinnacle Mountain Homes, also attended the workshop and said it was really helpful. He said Schwarz did a good job of laying out the basics of the program while also explaining some of the “why” and “how” questions builders had. Oppito said the workshop also dove into some of the specific challenges people have faced in their experience with the program so far.
“The more of these sort of instructional meetings that we can have, I think the more helpful it is for the builders in the building community to become more familiar with the program and therefore less intimidated by it,” Oppito said.
Paul Steinweg, with Iron Forest Building Co., said it was nice to finally have an educational outlet for the community relating to the sustainable building codes.
While the county and Breckenridge remain in a “training period” for the sustainable codes, Steinweg said he refers to it as a “trial period” because builders haven’t been provided any specific training for certain aspects of the codes. He said the workshop provided additional information and insight on the Zero Energy Ready Homes program.
“I think so many people went (because) it was a clear outreach of those people that are interested in this code to provide a little bit more information,” Steinweg said.
Steinweg said there are still many questions lingering, though the building community has continued to work with local organizations and governments to tweak the codes as they learn more about them. Specifically, he said windows are a piece that continuously comes up because of how such a small difference in window installation can have an impact regarding energy use.
Oppito noted that the Zero Energy Ready Homes program is designed to function in climates that are very different from Summit County’s and that tweaks need to be made to make it adaptable to altitude. He emphasized that the increased sun exposure at Summit’s altitude poses a challenge for energy conservation through windows.
“This program is a national program that works very well for 95% of the country, and we just happen to be in that 5% where some of the stuff doesn’t translate to our environment,” Oppito said.
The county is still leading a technical advisory board that continuously meets to discuss the codes, including stakeholders from the conservation center, local governments and the building community. Steinweg said the collaborative work they are doing is rewarding as everyone is listening to one another’s needs.
“We had an advisory board meeting a few weeks back that I walked out of and just said, ‘Man, I’m so glad I live here,’” Steinweg said. “Because we have the building department who’s listening to the builders, we have the energy consultants who are talking to the building department and the builders — it just felt like the most collaborative thing I had been a part of in Summit County yet.”
Steinweg joked that there could be a workshop like this every month for the next two years and builders would still have more questions. He said every time he learns something new about the code, there are questions that immediately come surrounding it. He described it like a domino effect.
Summit County Chief Building Official Scott Hoffman said the workshop was a great opportunity to have an open conversation about some of the issues builders are having with the program.
“It gave a chance for 40 or 50 stakeholders that are involved with the process to get in the same room,” Hoffman said. “I think that collaborative nature that’s associated with a big group together, where everybody has a chance to sustain and express their opinions, was good.”
Hoffman said working with the new codes and issuing permits over the past 18 months has provided real examples of issues that come up and need to be addressed. He said he will be at the Dec. 14 Summit Board of County Commissioners work session to talk through some of the options for the codes with commissioners.
“It’s a great step in the sense of actually providing some training for this new program that hasn’t gotten a ton of attention yet as far as training goes,” Steinweg said. “But we still have, I think, a lot of work to do, and the building department seems to be listening to that.”
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