Already faced with an acute housing affordability crisis that’s driving out working class residents, the town council of Crested Butte is prepared to exacerbate the problem in the name of going green.
Following in the footsteps of the self-imposed fiascos in Louisville and Superior, the council is looking to get a jump on recently passed state legislation by considering the adoption of new green building codes by next month. In doing so, it plans to go further than any other jurisdiction to date in Colorado.
As part of a council study session concerning the building codes update, the town council is considering mandating 100% electrification for all new builds and substantial renovations going forward. That would make it the first jurisdiction in the state to require forced electrification, and one of only a handful of jurisdictions nationwide to make such a move.
“The town’s goal is to be at net zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” Mel Yemma, Crested Butte’s long-range planner, reportedly told the council. “The goal is to decarbonize the grid and electrify buildings so they can directly utilize a green, sustainable grid.
Crested Butte is currently under the 2015 IEC code but is looking to adopt the 2021 IECC plus a number of “above building code standards” according to the council’s documents. Those include:
- EV-ready charging requirements for all new construction and all remodel projects that encompass more than 50% of total building area.
- Solar-ready requirements for all residential construction and commercial construction under 5,000 sq. ft. On-site solar power would be required for all commercial buildings greater than 5,000 sq. ft.
- Requirements for new construction (and remodels fitting the criteria above) to be all electric, with exceptions for commercial kitchens. This would essentially ban gas stoves and gas furnaces going forward.
- If the council elects not to require mandatory electrification, the alternative plan is that homeowners who opt for gas would be required to offset this choice with on-site solar power or else pay a carbon fee to the town’s Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (REMP). They would also be required to install panel space and wiring capacity for electrified heating, water heating, stove, and dryer replacements.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has already calculated that the costs of moving from the 2018 to the 2021 codes to be in the range of tens of thousands of dollars. A shift from an earlier code baseline, with added stringent requirements, stands to balloon the costs even further.
Electric heat pumps alone, the electrified substitute for a gas furnace, cost between $3,800 to $35,000 to install based on the type of pump used. Additionally, research from the Home Innovation Research Lab found that in colder climates—the report uses Denver as a case study—electric heat pumps also result in higher energy use costs of $238 to $650 annually compared to a gas house with high efficiency equipment.
Tack that on to the upfront costs estimated by the NAHB, plus the high cost of building materials and labor premiums due to supply chain snarls, and you’ve got the perfect storm of cost raising legislation at a time when the town’s prospective homeowners can least afford it.
According to the home listing website Realtor.com, the median home listing price in Crested Butte was $1.5 million as of May 2022. The price of housing in the popular mountain town is reportedly so bad that the town’s service industry is struggling to stay afloat due to the inability of local employees to find housing.
Imposing the priciest green codes mandate in the state is a surefire way to dump fuel on that fire. Boosters of green building codes argue that environmentally friendly housing can be a long-term benefit to homeowners. But that’s no consolation for a working-class Coloradan who might be priced out of purchasing a home altogether thanks to the upfront cost of complying with green mandates. Homeownership should not be a luxury reserved for the well-off, even in resort towns like Crested Butte.
Fortunately, at least one town councilmember appears to be speaking up for such concerns.
Councilmember Mallika Magner seems to be the only one involved asking the pertinent questions. “What will the cost of these new regulations be on the homeowners and builders?” she asked, according to Crested Butte News. “I want a handle on the costs and the REMP fees.”
Whether or not that’s likely to blunt the city’s onward march toward the most stringent green codes in the state, remains to be seen.
Jake Fogleman is an energy and environmental policy analyst at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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