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Breckenridge passes sustainable building code on 1st reading

Written by Taylor Sienkiewicz, Summit Daily

Photo courtesy of Summit Daily

At the Breckenridge Town Council work session on Tuesday, Feb. 25, council discussed the Summit Sustainable Building Code. The building code was created in a collaboration between Breckenridge, Summit County, Dillon, Silverthorne, High Country Conservation Center, local builders, architects and energy consultants, according to a memo addressed to council by Eli Johnston, chief building official.

Johnston explained that adopting the code is one strategy identified in the Summit Community Climate Action Plan, which was passed by the town in 2019. The town recently adopted the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code, but the Summit Sustainable Building Code would require that new construction use a higher standard of efficiency. The Summit County Builders Association submitted a letter to council stating their opposition to the code and their concerns, which included things like cost to builders and construction issues.

The association also submitted a letter to the editor to the Summit Daily News. Council members were surprised to hear that the Summit County Builders Association was against the code, as they claimed this was the first they had heard of any opposition.

“Let’s not say we’ll change this, we’ll change that, based on eleventh hour surprises,” council member Gary Gallagher said.Gallagher added that private contractors will adjust to whatever changes there are. Council member Wendy Wolfe stated that she believes the updated code is “the right thing to do.”

At the regular council meeting, several community members spoke during the public comment period both for and against the code. Blake Nudell, board president of the Summit County Builders Association, spoke against the code. Nudell stated that the association believes the code is too aggressive and would like more time and studies, as he said the wall assembly component of the code has not been proven in Summit County’s climate, referring to concerns that the high level of insulation associated with the wall component would cause trapped moisture, creating mold.

“We understand that people have been told 1% or 2% increase in cost where we think it’s 12% to 15% or even higher,” Nudell said. “A big concern is the cost that it’s adding to the projects. We’re concerned we’re going to be losing clients, which some of us have already had clients turn away for the cost of building in Summit County. We feel it’s just going to be worse.”

Others who spoke against the project included John Gregory, owner of Gregory Door and Window, and Marc Hogan of BHH Partners. Hogan was concerned about construction costs and mold and suggested older buildings should be retrofitted and brought up to the current code. Gregory said that he believes the new code is overdriven and is concerned about the low rating requirement of windows. He said he would have to take out half of his product line due to the code update and that there will be dramatically higher costs of glass products.

“When I hear things like 1% or 2% changes, I don’t see that in windows at all,” Gregory said. “… At the levels we’re going to now I would expect that to be more like a 50% increase in windows. … My main concern is the reduction in the availability of product for people.”

Those who spoke in support of the code included town residents Neil Groundwater, Angela Fisher and Kasey Provorse; Blue 52 homeowners association board president Tiernan Spencer; Matt Jansing and Michael Petzah of Deeper Green Consulting; Jennifer Schenk and Cody Jensen of High Country Conservation Center; and Elena Scott of Norris Design.

Spencer said that the code is important to keep utility costs down for residents, especially those in workforce housing.

“I think it’s really important that since we signed onto this community climate action plan that you follow through with what you guys signed onto,” Spencer said.

Jansing asked why people were even arguing about whether or not they can make a lower quality product. He also mentioned that there are four different compliance paths, making the code fairly flexible.

“It’s really just a matter of working that out in the design stage and that’s why it’s important to have your (Home Energy Rating System) rater from the beginning so you can work those things out,” Jansing said.

Jansing said that while there is currently only one HERS rater in Summit County, Jansing, Petzah and some staff at HC3 are currently going through training and expect to be ready by July. Petzah said that in their studies there is a 15% cost increase in the energy package of construction, but that the 1% to 2% estimate is accurate for the overall cost increase of the home. Petzah also pointed out that these changes will increase the value of the home and that as Summit County is in a very energy demanding climate zone, there is a higher level of responsibility to create efficiency.

Schenk said the code is necessary to hit climate action plan goals and pointed out the later involvement of the builders association. She said that the process for developing the code started in Jan. of 2019 and that there have been 13 or 14 stakeholder meetings since.

“I thought until today that we were all on the same page because no one spoke up in the meetings and seemed to have any concerns,” Schenk said. “We had 70 builders and architects in a room two weeks ago and lots of really positive questions, certainly a couple of concerns, but I just wasn’t hearing any of this until today when I saw this letter from the builders association.”

Johnson offered the room a “pep talk.” “I don’t think the builders give themselves enough credit, I think we’re more than ready for these code changes,” Johnson said. “… I think that once we start down this path that we’re going to find out collectively that it’s not as daunting as we maybe think at this moment.”

Public comment period was closed and a motion was made by council member Jeffrey Bergeron and seconded by Wolfe. Wolfe said that the town’s current workforce housing project at the McCain property is designed to be a net zero development without a natural gas line running to the property.

“We’re doing it for the sake of keeping the place where we live a place we can live and the clock is ticking,” Wolfe said. “We must go in this direction. So I’m prepared, realizing that there’s going to be bumps in the road … but as a community I think we all have to start rowing in this direction and we’re all going to have to make changes and I’m prepared to support it.”

Council member Erin Gigliello commented that it is a good idea to work on bringing older homes up to code. Mayor Eric Mamula said that while council may pass the code update on first reading, he would like to have questions answered before second reading, which include whether or not there is a possibility to extend the six month grace period currently included in the code and what the true construction cost increase will be.

“Put a finer point on this cost analysis thing,” Mamula said to Johnston. “These are two wildly different numbers that the two sides are talking about. … I’d like a better understanding in two weeks what the math truly will be. I want to understand that stuff better before second reading.”

Council then passed an ordinance approving the code updates on first reading. The ordinance as it currently reads can be read starting on page 33 of the Feb. 25 town work session agenda packet.

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