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Updates to Aspen's residential building code aim for more climate-friendly housing

Lance Armstrong home
David Zalubowski
Aspen has long been a destination for notable names, some of whom also call it home. Pictured above, a 2012 photograph of pro cyclist Lance Armstrong's Aspen home at the time. Over a decade later, the city has revamped its residential building code in hopes that the in-demand Aspen real estate market will leave less of an ecological footprint in the future.

Last week the City of Aspen passed a strict new residential building code with climate goals in mind.

According to a report submitted during the latest Aspen City Council meeting, several facets of the new building code could have a substantial impact on energy consumption and emissions.

The city's Community Development Director Philip Supino said climate goals were one of several driving forces behind the changes.

"The City of Aspen views the building code as a really important tool to achieve a whole range of policy objectives in the built environment with respect to energy and life, safety and community character," Supino said.

Among the additions, the new code requires more insulation and better windows. Other changes incentivize new home construction that skips natural gas in favor of 100% electric energy. All new homes must also use heat pumps for air conditioning, which are considered more energy efficient than traditional air conditioning units. The code changes will not impact heating equipment.

Aspen's Chief Building Official Bonnie Muhigirwa said many of the new provisions go well beyond current International Energy Code requirements.

"We focused on making a very robust building envelope with very high insulation values, triple pane windows," she said.

The code also limits the energy that can be used on exterior snow melt systems to 200 million BTUs per year on a given property - a significant change that would impact the largest homes in Aspen.

"It's not uncommon to see a large pool and 2,000 or 3,000 square feet of snow melt," Muhigirwa said of some of Aspen's larger homes.

Other amendments increase wildfire readiness. For example, the code stipulates all new homes must have fire resistant exteriors and incorporate interior sprinkler systems.

The new code comes after the Aspen City Council suspended home construction within the city limits in December 2021. The city defended the construction moratorium as an opportunity to survey the impacts of development on the surrounding environment.

Residential energy usage accounts for 31% of Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city’s Climate Action Plan. The city wants to have zero emissions by 2050.

The new code provisions take effect for projects submitted for permitting on or after April 1st, 2023.

I am the Rural and Small Communities Reporter at KUNC. That means my focus is building relationships and telling stories from under-covered pockets of Colorado.