Mt. CB considers adopting 2021 International Building Codes

Council reviewing changes and town-specific amendments

By Kendra Walker

The town of Mt. Crested Butte is beginning the process of adopting the 2021 International Building Codes (I-Codes). During a work session on March 19, the town council and town staff discussed the potential changes from the town’s current 2015 I-Codes and possible amendments and will continue the discussion in another work session on April 2. 

The I-Codes are updated every three years and allow for new construction methods and techniques to be incorporated into the codes. Municipalities typically adopt the new codes every three to six years, and Gunnison County, the City of Gunnison and the Town of Crested Butte have all recently adopted the 2021 codes. 

“It is helpful to architects, design professionals and contractors for all the local jurisdictions to be on the same codes,” said community development director Neal Starkebaum in a memo to the council. “The community development department finds that the safety, health and general welfare of the public is best served by adopting the most up to date and modern building codes with appropriate amendments.” 

Planner Shannon Hessler said that adopting the 2021 I-Codes also aligns with the town’s Master Plan goals, including to provide incentives for projects providing efficient and sustainable building solutions for housing and to collaborate with regional municipalities to develop countywide, above-building-code or net-zero standards for new buildings focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.

Starkebaum explained to the council that it is typical for municipalities to amend the adopted codes based upon their elevation, climate, snow loading and other local needs. “The town specifically adopts amendments that align with local factors and goals,” he said. “But consistency across all jurisdictions is practical for local design professionals and contractors.”

Starkebaum said that town staff has already carried over a large portion of the Mt. Crested Butte-specific amendments from the 2015 code adoption. Those amendments haven’t changed; however, staff identified some of the more substantial amendments for further discussion with the council. 

Some of the code changes and amendments include: requiring contractors to have a current Gunnison County contractor’s license for new construction, increasing design review and cleanup deposits, clarifying how the town processes abandoned permits, requiring ice barriers on the entire roof, adding town right-of-way permit language, requiring all single-family homes over 4,800 square feet to be sprinklered and adding Crested Butte Fire Protection District amendments to the fire code. 

Regarding energy changes, Hessler said the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is 9.2% more efficient than the 2015 IECC, due to requirements around improved insulation, windows and air leakage testing. She said that based on several studies, the IECC generally results in less than 1% increases in the overall building costs. 

“In the end it is very difficult to estimate the costs due to a multitude of variables,” she said, explaining that costs depend on different methods used to achieve R-values (insulation), specific architecture and square footage. “But energy codes present an opportunity to ensure savings through efficient building design, technologies and construction practices. The codes are a set of guidelines, but what determines cost and efficiency is really how the building is designed and constructed.”

Councilmember Steve Morris expressed concern that adopting the new codes could result in higher building costs. “Residential costs are getting so out of control and those extra costs add up. It concerns me that we’re just raising the barrier to entry.” 

Councilmember Michael Bacani agreed. “Anything that raises the barrier to get into a home is contrary to this council’s mission to get people into housing.”

“We’re talking about 1%,” said councilmember Alec Lindeman. “1% does not bother me. The code is resulting in a safer, better home.”

“When you design your dream home the way you want it and then try to add these requirements and efficiencies in later, it could be more expensive,” said mayor Nicholas Kempin. “When you design with all of these in mind from the start, it could be less expensive.”

The staff also explained that the state of Colorado requires that the adoption of any 2021 building codes must also include the Colorado Model Electric Ready and Solar Ready Code. The adoption requires solar and electric ready code amendments for residential and commercial buildings to be prepared for future solar and future transition to electric vehicles during new construction and major renovations. 

Additionally, this requires all new builds to be electric ready, where all fossil fuel (combustion) appliances are required to have the physical spacing and electric capacity to be replaced by electric appliances. “Everything needs to be free-wired and pre-ready for electric, but doesn’t have to be electric under this code,” said Hessler.  

“This one is the trickiest,” she continued. “It’s really hard to put a cost estimate on this one. If you’re building all electric upfront it can be cost saving compared to gas. But at current prices, having both systems in your house is going to be more expensive. Building a new house that has two different heating systems is most likely going to be more expensive than going all electric.”

Kempin shared his concern for the state mandate. “This is one of the smaller things the state is trying to ‘force’ on us, so the mandate is a slippery slope for us to consider,” he said. 

The council decided to continue the I-Codes discussion to another work session on April 2 to review the amendments, cost savings versus increases and the electric and solar ready mandate. The council and staff also agreed the process should include public engagement and involvement. The proposed adoption would include a public hearing at the first ordinance reading, followed by a second reading at a regular town council meeting.

Town staff said they are aiming for adoption this spring or early summer and recommends that the newly adopted code become effective on November 1, 2024 to allow applicants and the design and contractor community plenty of time to adapt to the new codes. 

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