Survey question asks if home sizes should be capped to reduce energy use
Some say incentives, fees are the best way to lower a large home’s carbon footprint
A Routt County resident since 2010, Bob Dowski is making sure his well-equipped Whitewood neighborhood home, which is larger than 6,500 square feet, will have a net neutral carbon footprint in energy use.
Dowski has installed solar panels with sun trackers that should pay back the investment in eight years, as well as a geo-exchange heating and cooling system with multiple zones that should pay back in 10 years. He also is trying wind turbine designs for backup power.
The homeowner is one of many with an opinion on a recent Routt County Master Plan Survey question. The query was prompted by citizen input during the community engagement process, explained Kristy Winser, Routt County planning director.
The survey question was: “Some counties have limited the size of homes to reduce energy use and maintain rural character.” Survey-takers were then asked their opinion if new homes should be limited in unincorporated Routt County to either 4,500, 5,500, 6,500 or “other” in square footage.
“Several climate action strategies were suggested during our initial community outreach, so we included it in the follow-up survey to test support for the idea within the community,” Winser said. “Procedurally though, specific strategies like max house size, best management practices or (a renewable energy mitigation program) would then be considered as we update the zoning regulations, which is how the master plan would be implemented.”
Renewable energy mitigation programs exist in various formats in several communities in Colorado including in Aspen and Pitkin County beginning in 1999. Homes larger than 5,000 square feet or that use exterior energy such as for outdoor gas fireplaces or heated driveways must install renewables at the time of construction or pay a fee. The payments go toward funding energy efficiency or renewable energy projects.
“I don’t think caps make any sense, but I do think asking people to have a more neutral net carbon footprint is good through property tax incentives or some incentives,” Dowski said.
Federal tax credits for residential renewable energy products currently are available through Dec.31, 2023, according to EnergyStar.gov.
Dowski’s view was echoed by several local eco-friendly home builders, as well as the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, which includes 388 real estate brokers. CEO Ulrich Salzgeber at SSBR said the size cap survey question has been a keen topic of conversation within the organization that is concerned about infringement upon personal property rights.
“I don’t think our members would be for capping it at any size,” Salzgeber said. “I think there are other ways you can address those issues without capping the size of properties, through different building materials, efficiencies with solar, heating and cooling that is efficient, and renewable energy.”
Longtime local real estate agent Doug Labor is an avid number-cruncher and an advocate of incentives for “those who want to protect the environment as opposed to a strong-arm.”
“Personally, I think it would be nice for the county to give incentives for people to add renewable energy above a certain house size, maybe as a reduction in tax assessment,” Labor said.
Labor said data shows that in the last 10 years, 11% of homes on the open market sold in Routt County were larger than 4,500 square feet, yet that represented 24% of the overall square footage of listings.
Within those 10 years, there were 3,659 home listings, and 411 of the homes were larger than 4,500 square feet, 225 were larger than 5,500 and 125 were larger than 6,500.
Labor noted the largest home on the local market currently is 14,500 square feet, built in 2013 near Fish Creek Falls. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average new single-family home size in America in third quarter 2021 was 2,541 square feet.
Some local energy-efficient home builders do favor house caps in Routt County, such as Scott Kemp of New Mountain Builders in Steamboat, who is a former Routt County Sustainable Home of the Year awardee.
“How about some sort of additional fees based on size that directs money back toward affordable housing?” Kemp questioned.
Bradley Bartels, owner of PureBuilt in Steamboat for 24 years who earned a degree in environmental public policy, said he selected 5,500 square feet in the survey.
“It’s hard to believe, and witness, the growth and size of homes being built in Routt County right now,” Bartels said. “Pitkin County figured this out years ago. People have to ‘make up’ the energy for any home over 5,000 square feet. Why can’t we?”
Other home builders advocate for no caps but for using efficient techniques and renewable energy for larger homes.
“As it relates to energy reduction, I’m not sure limiting home size is as effective as implementing more stringent energy performance requirements,” said Jeff Gerber, design principal at Gerber Berend Design Build in Steamboat. “I do like the idea of requiring renewable energy for larger homes or payments in-lieu that could be used toward county energy goals, for example a solar farm or other energy-offsetting programs.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Real estate transactions totaled $38.2 million across 45 sales for week of April 29 to May 5.