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Louisville city council to hear from fire victims on controversial, costly green rebuilding code

Some fire victims ask city to retract requirements
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Posted at 5:15 PM, Feb 01, 2022

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — The stories of loss are still raw.

"Back there where you can see all the plumbing and wires… was the kitchen," said fire victim Joseph Reid while surveying what was left of his home.

"It definitely felt like a war zone,” said Marshall Fire victim Christian Dino while surveying the rubble that used to be his house. “Doesn't feel like home."

And now comes the daunting task of rebuilding.

"This is going to be an awfully difficult recovery,” said Reid. “Rebuilding costs will be up somewhere between 25% and 30% higher since just before the pandemic."

Adding to the fear and anxiety of it all is Louisville's green building initiative which was adopted by city council just last fall. The initiative follows the International Energy Conservation Code or IECC.

"The crux of it is to make sure that our homes are ready to utilize electricity as opposed to gas," said Louisville Councilmember Kyle Brown, Ward III.

The code requires new homes to be net-zero emissions, which means Energy Star appliances, higher insulation values, solar panels or solar credits, and many other requirements including vehicle charging stations within the garage.

"One per space, so if you have a two-car garage you're talking two-vehicle charging," Dino said.

Fire victims like Dino, Reid and others say it's too expennosive and it was written for a handful of new homes being built by individuals with the means to build new homes, not for an unprecedented disaster like the Marshall Fire which destroyed nearly 600 homes in Louisville and 1,000 total homes across Boulder County.

"This was intended for the five or six homes that are being constructed in a year's time,” Dino said. “Not 600 people that are homeless."

Brown lost 200 homes in his ward and says the city is empathetic to those concerns.

"We are absolutely listening to the concerns of the community,” said Brown. “No one should have to choose between an energy-efficient home and an affordable one."

But Brown says the bigger issue is homeowners who were underinsured.

"Underinsurance is the single largest problem,” said Brown. “If my home had been lost, I know - we personally - would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars (under)insured."

Both Dino and Reid believe they were underinsured.

"We're short $300,000 to $350,000," said Reid.

“The minority outliers are those that are properly insured," said Dino.

Brown says homeowners will also likely receive rebates and insurance discounts under the green codes.

“I'm committed to making sure that everyone who wants to rebuild can rebuild,” Brown said. “And that means leveraging resources from both our state partners, as well as our private partners.

Brown says Louisville will work with Xcel Energy to utilize rebates for victims rebuilding.

“Working with manufacturers like Mitsubishi to get significant discounts for appliances that would be required for an energy efficient rebuild.”

But homeowners like Dino argue those rebates and discounts won’t add up to significant savings compared to the added costs of rebuilding under the current green rebuilding code.

“My home was built in 1991. That's nearly 30 years ago,” Dino said. “So, they've made the argument that everyone has a codes and ordinances coverage line item within their insurance policies, and that this will be sufficient to cover what they're requesting. But the truth of the matter is – 30 years-worth of code upgrades is going to more than eat through that line item of our insurance policies.”

Brown says the city’s research shows it will add about $20,000 to the overall cost of rebuilding.

Dino, who works in construction, completely disagrees. He believes it will add closer to $50,000, and up to $100,000 in additional rebuilding costs.

“I think it's horribly insensitive for city government to believe that this is acceptable to be adding this amount of cost at this time," said Dino.

The issue goes before Louisville City Council tonight. The meeting is at 6 p.m. and is virtual. You can watch it here.