The unique energy code coming to Colorado | OPINION | opinion



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Cory Gaines


I recently finished my DIY solar panel installation. In reviewing the costs, it struck me that a full 22% of the tab went to upgrading my switch panel and meter box.

If you’ve done any kind of construction on your home lately, you’ve probably encountered the same thing. Building a new home or updating an existing one requires consideration of building code updates. Some will make sense and some won’t. In 1977 there was apparently no requirement for a circuit breaker that could turn off the entire house. Now there is, and I’m more sure of it. Instead, I had to pay for a whole-house surge protector, a device of dubious value to me since all vulnerable items were already protected. That’s how the codes work, though. You can’t pick and choose.

Due to a recent bill, Colorado will soon have a statewide energy code (which prescribes things like how much insulation to install, what kind of windows to install, what kind of appliances and, potentially whether or not you have solar panels on your roof or a plug for an electric car). Following what has become a pattern, the decision will be made by the Colorado Energy Code Board, a group of 20 people elected by political office.

I understand. Duct chases or inches of foam aren’t exactly exciting topics. But the recent experience of Superior residents who lost their homes to the Marshall Fire should give us reason to pay close attention. Seemingly minor changes in energy codes can add up to hundreds of dollars in home prices, and this council does not debate minor changes. As was the case in Superior, the proposed changes are major revisions with commensurate costs.

As with electric vehicles, I think the best way to summarize the proposed changes (more insulation, insulated windows, 98% efficient appliances and the like) is that they will cost more to buy but less to run. Many estimates are available, but the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) report seems to be a commonly cited source. By their numbers, building a house like my current one in Logan County (up to the 2021 energy code) would cost an additional $3,400, take five years before I was cash-flow positive on my investment, and take about 17.5 years to pay in full. by himself Note that this does not include any of the things like Superior included in their code; regular energy code appendices that require solar (or the purchase of a “solar indulgence” at your local solar garden); charging points for electric vehicles and similar.

Is this worth it? Opinions vary because situations vary. A young couple starting to live in their home five years before buying bigger probably thinks not. An older, more established couple, buying what they think is their last home and who value a carbon-free lifestyle, might decide they’d rather do it all. The problem above remains, though: you can’t pick and choose when it comes to codes. You can’t even see your county commissioner at the grocery store, shut up and tell them how you feel. You can do whatever the unelected board decides.

If this bothers you like I do, there are a couple of things you can do. First, go to the Colorado Energy Code Board link above and sign up for updates on their meetings. When you get a chance (as of my last check, the board had yet to fully flesh out the details of how public comment will work), speak up. You don’t have to be a code expert, and that’s your right. We need more middle-of-the-road voices to be heard in this state instead of the conversation being dominated by the type of appointees and activists who have run this state for the past four years.

My second piece of advice is to act locally. Go talk to your county commissioner and ask what can be done to get some local control back. I’m working on this myself in Logan County (an effort others could easily copy) and will post on my Facebook page as I have updates if you’d like an idea.

Whether or not we completely agree on what types of insulation and equipment should be required of a home, I would prefer the code to reflect what ordinary people in this state value. I would prefer it to be as local as possible. I do not at all want the kind of unpleasant surprise that the owners of the Marshall Fire got. Please join the conversation.

Cory Gaines is a physics instructor at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. He runs the Colorado Accountability Project on Facebook and lives by what Richard P. Feynman said the pleasure of discovering things.”

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