DENVER — A bill that would force local governments statewide to adopt costly building codes appears to have stalled in the Colorado House with less than 2 weeks left in the 2022 legislative session.
Opponents say House Bill 22-1362, Building Greenhouse Gas Emissions, would make the construction of new homes more costly and the goal of affordable housing harder to attain.
The bill requires the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) to adopt three model codes. Local governments would be required to adopt and enforce two of the codes — or any version that is more stringent — and encouraged to adopt the third.
The bill would also add more state spending by creating the “building electrification for public buildings” grant program, and the “high-efficiency electric heating and appliances” grant program. It would also establish an enterprise fund called the “clean air building investments.”
It is sponsored in the House by Democrats Tracey Bernett and Alex Valdez and in the Senate by Democrats Chris Hansen and Faith Winter. Second reading of the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives was supposed to happen April 26 but has been laid over daily since.
The bill requires the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) to identify three sets of code language:
- Model electric and solar ready code language.
- Model low energy and carbon code language.
- Model green code language.
The bill would require that the basic codes adopted by the CEO achieve “equivalent or better” energy performance than the 2021 international energy conservation code (IECC).
Driving up building costs
The 2021 IECC includes such things as requiring all new homes constructed to be all-electric ready, electric vehicle charging port (EV) ready, and solar ready, requirements that those in the industry say will add large costs to the building of a new home.
“This will cost the regular consumer a lot more money,” said Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton, who has been an electrician for more than three decades.
Pelton said he experienced this in 2000 when he was living on the Western Slope and Pitkin County developed similar codes.
“The cost to build a house in Pitkin County went up quite a bit,” Pelton said. “It makes it harder and less affordable for houses to be built. But also, how much government is enough? How much ozone can we stop? Where is the level that we have to reach to stop climate change?”
Pelton gave the example of changes to recessed lighting. Currently, homes with recessed lighting fixtures must be able to safely run against the insulation in the home.
However, the new 2021 IECC requires those lights to be airtight to reduce heat in the home escaping through the attic.
“Well, guess what, that just jumped up the cost to $50 or $60 more per light fixture,” Pelton said. “People are not going to be able to afford to build a house with this energy code, it’s just not going to happen. It’s unfortunate this is the case.”
The 2021 IECC codes have been adopted in several communities along the front range including Superior and Louisville, where Marshall Fire victims were grandfathered or excluded from the new codes due to the recognized added costs to new construction.
“It’s going to take a hell of a lot of money to rebuild, and there is a lot more to this 2021 code than they are letting on with the costs, and it’s far more significant than what they are claiming,” said one resident who told the Superior Town Board he lost three properties in the fire, and contractors he’d spoke to said it’s likely to cost between $350 to $400 a square foot to rebuild under the new codes.
The Homebuilders Association of Metro Denver, as reported by the Associated Press, has said it will cost at least $77,000 more to build a 2,200 square foot home under the new code.
$25 million price tag
The impact of the new rules are uncertain, so the bill itself creates a way out if “in the event of a conflict between the 2021 international energy conservation code, the 2024 international energy conservation code, or any of these 3 sets of model code language and either the Colorado plumbing code or the national electric code, the Colorado plumbing code or the national electric code prevails.”
Pelton said it’s the national electric code that most if not all electricians follow now, so why create new ones if that code supersedes everything else.
“This code will raise the price exponentially,” Pelton said. “The cost of copper and aluminum right now has gone up quite a bit. If I have to run wire to a box, and that wire is not being used for anything because I don’t wire anything in the house that is currently being used, so we’re going to be running excess wire into your house for no reason other than if later on down the road they can.”
Just making a home EV ready is still not simple, notes Peleon, as there are 30-, 60- and 100-amp possibilities. There is no way of predicting what will be needed.
Additionally, the bill appropriates $25 million from the general fund to the energy fund to provide training on the new codes and money to fund the grants.
Pelton, who is the Republican nominee in December for a vacated Senate District 1, with Jerry Sonnenberg termed out, said if Democrats continue to put in place more and more building codes there will never be affordable housing that is anything more than modular homes — and only if those are not regulated out as well, he said.
“It is wrong that the Democrats are OK with punishing people over climate change, Pelton said. “I think they need to be called out on it. All they talk about is affordable housing until it comes to climate change, then they are OK with punishing you and making things more expensive.”
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