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Green Building News

Boulder County to Revise BuildSmart Rules

Image Credit: Boulder County Land Use Department

One year into its ambitious green code program, the county plans to introduce more flexibility and clarity into its requirements

Attempts to mandate green behavior and bolster green enterprise are bound to yield unintended consequences every now and then.

GBA has noted a couple of examples: Recycling paper in a down economy ends up diminishing the market for recycled paper; and a program to remove derelict row houses in Philadelphia ends up diminishing the energy efficiency of the row houses left standing.

Freshly added to the list are the side effects of the BuildSmart code launched in May 2008 in Colorado’s Boulder County, where residents have been giving local officials plenty of critical feedback and, out on the job sites, installing bigger solar power installations, not more energy efficient exterior shells, for their construction and renovation projects over the past year.

“We are not necessarily getting better building envelopes from the BuildSmart regs, just bigger photovoltaic systems,” said a recent report to the county commissioners from the building department, whose comment was cited in a story published last week by the Daily Camera.

The paper noted some common complaints about the code – which is one of the strictest (and, perhaps, most complex) performance-based codes in the country – and covered the response by the Boulder County Commissioners, who after a public hearing on Tuesday instructed county staffers to return in three weeks with a revised scale for rating energy-efficiency requirements in new homes and a better system for regulating remodels.

Sorting through positives and negatives

The county’s current BuildSmart code, whose performance requirements are based on HERS ratings, is too expensive and strict for remodels, some residents told county officials. Residents also complained that the complexity of HERS ratings left them at a disadvantage when trying to determine early on in their projects which construction approaches might be the most cost effective.

The commissioners did immediately relax one major code provision: previously, new houses of 5,000 sq. ft. or more had to conform to near-zero energy standards, but the commission stretched the new near-zero threshold to new homes of 7,000 sq. ft. or more. The county also will look at ways to make it easier for residents to renovate existing homes, the Daily Camera noted.

Many of the residents who bulked up on solar power may have seen PV panels as the simplest, if not the cheapest, way to meet overall ratings requirements. Many older houses in Boulder County have a HERS rating of at least 180 – 80 points above the maximum rating allowed for a home built to code.

County officials, however, are not particularly surprised that the code needs reworking after a year on the books. A review was part of the plan from the beginning, and the commission is interested in doing what it can to encourage green construction in general, and remodelers in particular.

“The truth is that we really do want people to do renovations instead of scraping and starting over from scratch,” said Commissioner Ben Pearlman.

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