New homes in Durango and La Plata County will be built to be more energy-efficient next year when local governments adopt new codes, but some say the updates don't go far enough.
Both city and county building departments likely will adopt the 2009 energy codes instead of the more rigorous standards set by the 2012 or 2015 International Energy Conservation Code. The county currently has the 2003 standards in place, and the city enforces the 2006 standards.
Officials say adopting the 2009 energy code will allow builders to take a step toward greater energy-efficiency without adding thousands of dollars to the construction cost of new houses.
"Every time we adopt a code, it increases the cost of that structure. We are conscious of that," said Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County's Building Department.
The 2012 and 2015 energy codes are more expensive to implement, in part, because they require builders to test homes for the quality of their insulation with blower-door and duct-blaster tests, builders and officials say.
Blower-door tests depressurize a house to see how much air can make its way into the home through the outlets and around windows and other areas of the home, said Mike Frisoni, the owner of Annadel Building Solutions, the only company locally doing the testing.
Duct-blaster testing measures how much the heating and cooling ducts in the house are leaking, if at all, he said.
Energy Star homes in the area must pass these tests in order to achieve the Energy Star rating, and better insulation can save owners on their utility bills over time.
Builders have to be conscious of the energy -efficiency requirements throughout construction to pass the tests, said Jaaron Mankins, the CEO of the company.
For example, at SilverPick Contracting, workers do a smoke-bomb test to find any leaks in duct systems, he said.
All the extras needed to achieve an Energy Star rating cost a builder about $8,000 for a two-bedroom house priced around $330,000, Mankins said. These extras include purchasing energy-efficient appliances, laying extra caulking around the drywall, adding better insulation in the floor and installing better-fitting windows.
The requirements to meet the 2012 and 2015 codes actually would be cheaper for builders than having to qualify for the Energy Star rating because the codes don't cover appliances or other extras.
Mankins doesn't understand why local governments won't adopt the more-rigorous code because Durango is an environmentally conscious place, and the updated codes would ensure more quality homes would be on the market.
"There's a lot of slackers out there that aren't doing the right thing," he said.
But other builders have concerns about leaping from the 2006 or 2003 energy code to the 2012 or 2015 code because of the cost.
"There is going to come a time when housing is going to be unattainable if we keep adding fees and mandates," Jerry Pope, co-owner of Timberline Builders, told the Durango City Council in late July.
Another builder, Hunter Mantell-Hecathorn, the vice president of Mentall-Hecathorn Builders, would like to see the community move toward higher standards, but he believes the 2012 or 2015 code would be too big of a change.
"I don't quite think that builders and the market are ready for that aggressive of a change," he said.
Once the 2009 codes are in place, the county building department staff can encourage energy conservation, with more visual inspections, Knowlton said.
Although most builders are installing insulation properly, there have been some bad actors locally.
"People have tried to cut corners on the energy; that is the hole we are trying to plug," said Dan Featheringill, a plans reviewer for the county.