2022 Leg Session, Energy, Environment, Jake Fogleman

Fogleman: Pump the brakes on costly new codes

It’s no secret that the cost of housing is a pressing concern in Colorado.

Record-low home inventory, onerous zoning regulations, and an inflation rate outpacing the national level have given the Denver metro area the odious new distinction of being the fifth least affordable housing market in the country.

And yet, several Democratic lawmakers under the gold dome seem eager to add fuel to the fire.

The recently introduced House Bill 22-1362—the brainchild of House Democrats Tracey Bernett and Alex Valdez as well as Senate Democrats Chris Hansen and Faith Winter—would direct the Colorado Energy Office to establish the 2021 version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), plus solar-ready and electric-ready appendices, as the baseline for building construction in all counties that issue building codes.

Likewise, an amendment to Senate Bill 22-206 seeks to create a new centralized Wildland-Urban Interface Code Board that would also usurp enforcement authority over construction, remodels, and land development from local governments across the state in an effort to promote wildfire resiliency.

These heavy-handed measures stand to boost the cost of new housing at exactly the wrong time.  As with the current energy crisis, the measures would add regulatory constraints to the supply of a commodity in high demand, and apply those constraints to the housing market statewide.

The centralization of code enforcement included in both HB 1362 and the wildfire code board amendment also disregards the differing capacities of Colorado jurisdictions to comply with new regulations.

“It would add a mind-numbing amount of complexities and cost,” Kirk Watson, a builder-architect and former chair of the Louisville Historic Preservation Commission, said of the prospects of HB 1362 becoming law. “It will be nearly impossible to build in rural communities because it is not economically viable for them. They don’t have the money and they don’t have the consultants.”

Watson also expressed concern that the statewide bill did not contain a provision to help disaster victims, a peculiar oversight considering the recency of the Marshall fire and code compliance brouhaha in Louisville.

“If there is another Louisville fire disaster somewhere, there is no waiver provision in the bill, so the legislature would presumably have to go into special session to allow local waivers for people suffering,” Watson said.

It is certainly the prerogative of government officials to decide to confront climate change and wildfire risk by imposing stringent code requirements on home building, but it must be recognized that such decisions come with major costs. The government of Louisville came to recognize those costs after they came home to roost on the backs of folks who had just lost everything in a tragic fire.

Now the state legislature must take heed and decide if the slight increase in energy efficiency and building resiliency is worth the burden it places on future housing development and cost of living. There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to climate policy.

One would think Colorado officials would be eager to take heed of the self-imposed debacle in Louisville and embrace a little humility about building mandates. On the contrary, the party of our “affordability Governor” appears all too willing to pass laws making it more expensive to live in this state.

Hopefully they come to their senses before the end of the session.

Jake Fogleman is an energy policy analyst at the Independence Institute, a free market tank in Denver.


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