Opinion | Susan Knopf: Sustainable building codes should be incentivized, not mandated

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Our county commissioners intend we meet the challenge of the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home building codes. It’s a part of the county’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

For the record, county government is working toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, according to the Summit Community Climate Action Plan, which was adopted April 2019.

This is a good thing. How we get there is another thing.

I talked with a retired builder, a local electrician, a resident building a new home and several local officials. Bottom line: Nobody likes being told what to do. And none of the locals want to see their names in this column.

We just finished renovating our home, a project years in the making. We knew we wanted to create infrastructure to take us into a sustainable future. We asked our electrician for a hookup in the garage for an electric car. We don’t own an electric car. Now, we’re ready for our next car purchase.

The next time the incentives are good, we hope to invest in green energy: wind or solar. We’re ready for that. We installed an inverter and a conduit from the outside to the electrical panel. We want to go green when it’s financially feasible.

During our renovation planning, contractors seemed to welcome these items as unusual requests. Yet at the same time, county commissioners were moving to make these features required in all new home construction.

The new building codes passed in March are expected to be fully implemented this year. The resident building a new home is not happy the county is demanding that she spend an extra $5,000 to $10,000 on the energy-efficient infrastructure. That’s the amount her architect estimated.

In a Summit Daily News story from February 2020, the High Country Conservation Center estimated the cost increase at 1% to 2%. My guess is that’s a lot more than the architect estimated.

She said her builder seemed confused about the new rules.

Summit County’s chief building official Scott Hoffman lists many points of contact with stakeholders, including but not limited to more than 20 public meetings with more than 25 diverse stakeholders, a code-change open house, webinars, newspaper articles and legal notices. He said condos have to comply with the Zero Energy Ready Home building codes.

We all like to resist change until it’s crammed down our throats. For Zero Energy Ready Home codes, that’s now.

The retired builder said he knows about the codes and was against them. He’s in favor of moving aggressively to reduce green house gases, but he’s not happy about having expensive changes forced on folks.

The people I spoke with agree with the objectives, but they prefer to see those changes incentivized, not mandated. Why use a hammer instead of a tax rebate?

Through the process, you are recommended to consult with a third-party energy consultant, like Cody Jensen, who is among the authors of the “Ask Eartha” column in the Summit Daily. He wrote about the code changes last week. You’ll also need an energy audit. You can find local companies that provide that service through your power company’s website. According to my husband, there are rebates available for the audit from your utility company and High Country Conservation Center.

Bottom line, energy efficiency is costing us more up front to save money and energy later. The good news: According to the 2017 Summit County Greenhouse Gas Emissions Summary, our energy demands remain “consistent” since 2010 while our population and occupancy have increased. Good job, neighbors!

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at

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