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After the Marshall Fire, new green building codes would drive up construction costs

APTOPIX Colorado Wildfire
Hart Van Denburg
Colorado Public Radio, AP Pool
A view of a Boulder County neighborhood that was destroyed by a wildfire is seen from a Colorado National Guard helicopter during a flyover by Gov. Jared Polis on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.

Louisville’s City Council is considering how to handle new green building codes, updates that would increase the cost of rebuilding for homeowners impacted by the Marshall Fire. The codes, which were adopted last year, put in place requirements for energy star appliances, efficient water heaters and heat pumps, as well as solar and electric vehicle charging standards.

“The central issue here is really the overall cost to rebuild,” Louisville resident John Mihaly said during a city council meeting earlier this week. “This isn’t just the 2018 versus the 2021 codes, but what is the overall cost of any energy code as well as the other expenses that the fire victims will have to incur? Cost of sprinklers, permitting fees and everything else that we’ve talked about.”

A recent analysis by an outside engineering firm indicates that the new codes would cost homeowners at least an additional $19,000 to rebuild. Many insurance policies do include riders that cover code changes, but some are unsure it would be enough.

“Like many people you’ve heard from tonight, I’m profoundly underinsured. Everyone I’ve spoken to is profoundly underinsured,” Chris Lindsay, another Louisville resident who lost his home, said. “It’s a systemic problem.”

Residents say they are underinsured on everything from debris removal to rebuilding costs to possessions coverage.

On the green building codes specifically, city officials are working with Xcel Energy and other companies to figure out ways to offset those costs, such as potentially offering discounts on heat pumps and solar, for example, as well as making use of existing utility rebate programs.

The city is also preparing for the rebuilding process itself. During a Marshall Fire briefing Thursday morning, City Manager Jeffrey Durbin announced the creation of the rebuild brainstorm team, or the RB team, made up of individuals from various city offices.

“How do we facilitate this reconstruction process? ... There’s gonna be a lot of activity in these neighborhoods,” Durbin said. “Having a dumpster in front of properties. Contractor parking. Right-of-way permits. Security. All these types of things we’re going to need to be monitoring. It would be chaotic if we didn’t have some sort of broader control.”

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