Riding a ‘green building’ wave
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” An Energy Efficient Building Program that has already served as a model for other communities looking to green up construction practices may be getting a facelift only two years after it was first adopted.
Since the Carbondale Efficient Building Program (CEBP) was put in place in June of 2007, it has been well-received by the public and builders, and has largely been a success, according to Jeff Dickinson, a green design consultant working with the town to write the regulatory piece of the town’s larger Energy Plan.
“We have raised the quality of construction in Carbondale,” Dickinson wrote in a recent report to the town board, members of which had asked for a review of the code to gauge whether it’s meeting the town’s not-so-long-term energy efficiency goals.
Carbondale’s Energy and Climate Protection Plan is aimed at reducing the town’s carbon footprint by taking a variety of measures, both public and private, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It includes a goal for 30 percent of the town’s energy use to come from renewable sources by 2015.
In some cases, though, the points-based system for builders to follow is almost too easy and may not be moving the town toward achieving that goal, Dickinson reported.
“It has been found to be very easy to meet the point requirements, particularly for smaller house sizes (3,000 square feet and less),” he said.
But the code review was prompted more by the realization when a building permit was issued last year for a 14,000 square-foot house at River Valley Ranch that there’s not a more stringent requirement for large houses, many of which end up being second homes.
“It has been found that the energy side of the program has been lagging behind, with requirements only in place to meet the minimum requirements of the International Energy Conservation Code,” Dickinson reported.
The result is that Carbondale is seeing residential projects coming in at anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent better than the town code calls for.
That’s good, Dickinson said, but also calls into question whether the code is doing all it can to meet the goals of the Energy Plan.
So, some changes are being proposed, including upping the mandatory requirement for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the construction of all new houses of 2,500 square feet or more.
Some town trustees believe the changes are needed, while others have questioned whether the code is flexible enough and whether the mandatory nature of the code is even appropriate.
Carbondale is becoming known locally and abroad as a leader in green building requirements, and particularly the use of renewable energy resources to achieve energy efficiency goals.
“We are known around the state by other governmental entities and people who are in the business,” Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker said at a recent town board meeting where the energy code was being discussed.
He said area towns such as New Castle have called inquiring about Carbondale’s green building code, and even officials from the Colorado Municipal League have asked to use the town’s codes as a model for other communities looking to do the same.
“We have quite a reputation,” Baker said. “One of our goals was to create a model that other communities could use. We are making a difference.”
The CEBP is based on a points system where builders can choose from 100 items in seven different categories, including the chosen site, recycling, framing and materials, indoor air quality, energy use, renewable energy applications and innovation.
The current code requires that single-family houses of 3,000 square feet (SF) or less achieve at least 110 points (total of 445 available points). Houses of more than 3,000 SF can get by with the same point requirement, but at least .33 watts per SF of the building’s electrical must come from a PV system.
The proposed code changes would lower the minimum house size for the PV requirement to 2,500 SF, and increase the PV requirement on a sliding scale for larger houses to:
– 0.9 watts per SF for houses of 2,501 to 5,000 SF
– 1.8 watts per SF for houses of 5,001 to 8,000 SF
– 2.7 watts per SF for houses of 8,000 and up.
The total points requirement would also increase the larger the house is. Outside energy use, such as for spas, pools, heated garages and snowmelt systems, must also be mitigated through payment of fees.
There is evidence that second homes, which are unoccupied for a good part of the year, use as much energy as a house that’s occupied year-round.
“A study by Climate Mitigation Services shows that larger second homes, while being unoccupied for a significant portion of the year, still use as much total energy on a per square foot basis as a smaller home,” Dickinson included in his report. “However, due to their larger size, they can use a total of four to six times as much total energy.”
Carbondale Trustee John Foulkrod has expressed concerns about the mandatory requirements in the code, and says it should be more incentive driven.
“I feel like we’re mandating choice here,” he said at a recent town board meeting. “It’s the same as saying everyone must drive a hybrid car by 2010.
“To me, the jury is still out on how we become more energy efficient … how best to lower our carbon footprint,” he added.
Foulkrod said he’s also opposed to putting the burden on new construction only to help meet the town’s goals. The PV requirement in particular is too onerous, he said.
“To be mandated to put certain things on your house is wrong,” he said.
Dickinson said the PV requirement follows a national trend toward the use of renewable energy, especially solar.
“It is getting more and more incentivized, and more popular to do these kinds of things,” he said.
The mandatory requirement so far in Carbondale has been successful, and met with little resistance, Dickinson said. The proposed changes are only intended to help the town meet its energy goals, he added.
Mayor Michael Hassig said it’s a question of drawing a line between “rights and responsibilities.”
“When do rights trump our responsibility to act in a way that recognizes the fact that we have limited precious resources,” he said.
Added Trustee Frosty Merriott, “I think we’re losing sight of our goal … (which) we can’t achieve without it being mandatory. We need to do it right, and I’m ready to do it right.”
Other trustees have also questioned whether PV should be mandatory over other renewable energy sources, such as wind power.
The town board will consider adopting the energy code changes related to single-family residential construction later this month. Changes to the code related to multi-family residential construction, also including a PV requirement for units of 750 SF and up, are expected to be reviewed later this spring. Codes related to commercial construction will be reviewed as well.
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