Green Points and Green Building, Energy Smart and ENERGY STAR, Home Energy Score and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, City of Boulder building regs, Boulder County prescriptive requirements and the City of Longmont’s National Green Building Standard. How does a Denverite like me (or anyone else, for that matter) make sense of it all, much less navigate all these programs with sound-alike names?
By Melissa Baldridge
Boulder instituted some of the country’s first green building codes, and if there weren’t a Boulder Green Building Guild (BGBG) to unscramble it all, you’d have to invent one.
THE ROSETTA STONE
Last month the BGBG hosted a “Green Building 101″ workshop in Longmont, and about a dozen Realtors, architects, homeowners and contractors showed up for a daylong immersion in green building – state-of-the-art building materials, show-and-tell with cool projects, and of course, deciphering all the programs and regulations in and around Boulder. While Boulder is most assuredly on the front end, requiring home and building owners to beef up their energy efficiency, the rest of the country is sure to follow, someday. What starts in Boulder (thankfully) won’t stay there.
In green building “Boulder style,” carbon reduction is everything, and 3,000 square feet is the magic number. The city tied its energy use to Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas reduction goals. If you build a new house in the city of Boulder, you must have a HERS (“Home Energy Rating System”) score of 70, over and out. That means your house must use energy 30 percent more efficiently than an identical house built to average building codes. HERS scores are like golf – the lower the better – and 70 is the pay-to-play number.
If you supersize a house in Boulder bigger than 3,000 square feet, your HERS score drops. In other words, if you build big, Boulder requires your house to sip even less energy. And this applies to remodels and renovations, though the HERS drop-off isn’t as steep.
Another big distinction for a lot of these green-building energy codes is the question of “performance” versus “prescriptive” requirements. Performance usually means a HERS score quantifies the house’s “miles per gallon,” and a builder gets to decide which components deliver that specified number.
For example, you build a gorgeous 2,500-square-foot townhouse with spectacular views of the Flatirons so you have lots of windows. To offset that energy loss, you install a geothermal heat exchange system, which has crazy-good efficiency. The performance path is risky, though, because even though a “from-plans” score gives some idea of how the house will perform, it still has to pass a final “test-out.” If it falls short at the end, the remedies can end up costing the builder or owner BIG time. With prescriptive paths like Boulder County’s Build Smart program, the county has an easier-to-follow checklist of things builders must do. Hit all the checkpoints, and you’re good.
Bravo for Boulder’s pushing energy efficiency in homes and rental properties. Next up, commercial buildings. Boulder’s not the place for libertarians or “less is more” types when it comes to government regulation, and the adjustment to building green inthe citycan be huge if you’re used to laxer rules and attitudes.
The big upside to all this, though, is that Boulder and surrounds are breaking the waves for the rest of us to follow. And their pushing the outside of the envelope with energy efficiency benefits us all.
Melissa Baldridge is a contributing writer to Colorado Energy News and co-founder of GreenSpot Real Estate, a traditional real estate brokerage with a specialty for green, energy-efficient properties. She‚Äôs a LEED APO+M, a HERS rater and a BPI-certified Envelope Specialist. She writes about green buildings, living and design, and her articles have appeared in media like MSN.com, The Denver Post, Luxe and Ms. magazine. Melissa’s email address is Melissa.firstname.lastname@example.org.