Routt County climate action group recommends efficiency guidelines for outdoor fossil fuel use
Snowmelt systems, outdoor gas fire pits top discussions
At the Routt County Building Oversight Committee meeting in January, Building Official Todd Carr led an icebreaker discussion with countywide representatives about how to reduce the waste of fossil fuel use outdoors.
The recommendation to curb inefficient use of fossil fuels outdoors comes from the energy sector working group of the Routt County Climate Action Plan Collaborative Board. The board and five subcommittees are working to reduce the community’s environmental footprint as directed by the Climate Action Plan, which was adopted by all jurisdictions countywide in summer 2021.
“Snowmelt systems are the biggest carbon contributors followed by outdoor gas fire pits,” Carr explained of building-related outdoor energy use in Routt County.
Building department officials will meet this winter with contractors and design professionals to discuss the next building code adoption set for Jan. 1, 2024, for the proposed implementation of the 2021 International Code Council building and energy codes. Possible guidelines for reducing outdoor fossil fuel use will be part of those discussions.
Other Colorado communities have programs in place to help curb outdoor energy use mostly through renewable energy offset programs such as in Aspen, Pitkin County, Telluride, Boulder County, Crested Butte and jurisdictions in Eagle County. Breckenridge currently is considering an outdoor energy mitigation program.
The oversight committee asked the building official to host input meetings for the general public and to create tiers of proposed recommendations. Routt County Manager Jay Harrington said creating guidelines to conserve outdoor fossil fuel use will need “robust public outreach.”
Currently, the building codes adopted in Routt County include few restrictions on outdoor fossil fuel use aside from requiring that snowmelt systems include a minimum level of insulation underneath as well as temperature or moisture controls, Carr said.
“The (Climate Action Plan) that everyone signed on to tasked us with reducing carbon emissions, and buildings are one of largest contributors,” Carr said. “Why tighten up buildings if the energy is just going to be used to heat the great outdoors? This is a big item for this energy working sector group. You are setting us with the goal of reducing emissions, and we are going to start outdoors.”
Carr said the outdoor snowmelt systems “are running nonstop in some cases.” The common set point for such a system is to warm concrete or pavers to 40 to 45 degrees or to react to a moisture sensor.
“We are in Climate Zone 7, which means nothing is more severe except Climate Zone 8, which is the Arctic, so this means these snowmelt systems have to make up large-scale differences in temperatures,” Carr explained.
One scenario to reach the energy saving goals of the Climate Action Plan is to limit snowmelt size for residential properties or require those systems be powered by renewable energy. Outdoor fossil fuel fireplaces for residential use that require a permit from the building department, such as for installing a gas line, could be limited in size. After-market appliances not associated with a building permit would not be regulated.
A scenario for outdoor snowmelt systems for commercial facilities could be size limits with timers installed. For example, snowmelt might be installed for public safety and handicap accessibility and limited in size otherwise.
Carr said outdoor snowmelt systems previously were more common for safety reasons in commercial facilities, but in the last seven or eight years, more large residential homes are installing big snowmelt systems fueled by natural gas or propane.
“We primarily see this in rural Routt County in large single-family homes and in town in both commercial and residential,” Carr said. “It goes way beyond the driveway in many cases with excessive-sized boilers. These things emit a lot of carbon, and around here they are going to run four to six months out of the year. It’s very difficult even with the best controls to minimize the impact.”
Dan LeBlanc, chair of the Climate Action Plan energy sector working group, said finding a mechanism to limit outdoor heating with fossil fuels is a “big opportunity for emissions reductions because these systems tend to be both energy-intensive and inefficient.”
For example, the same amount of energy to heat a 2,000-square-foot home to 68 degrees may be used to melt snow on an average driveway because most of the heat is lost to the outdoors, said LeBlanc, an energy assessor and owner of Colorado Building Performance in Steamboat.
“So, in the big picture of the (Climate Action Plan), we see limiting these outdoor heating systems as a priority because it offers some of the most cost-effective emissions reductions available for the building sector,” LeBlanc said.
Carr said pre-existing outdoor heating systems could be grandfathered in, but one scenario could be when those units fail, a replacement permit would not be granted, unless powered by renewable energy.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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