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2015 Boulder County Building Code Updates
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Since 2004, with the inception of the CGBG, we have been working hand-in-hand to bring together building officials, contractors, designers, energy professionals, engineers, materials suppliers, and everyone else that is part of this dynamic industry. Boulder County has been working hard to push the industry to move towards a sustainable built environment and introduced the first version of BuildSmart in 2008. While locally, our community has been enthusiastically supportive of building codes that push the industry to do our best work, nationally progress has been more controversial. For years, the national codes were well behind energy efficiency requirements that we take for granted. 

That said, the International Code Council (ICC) has been making progress, and the 2015 edition of the model codes is the best yet. 

As of the beginning of 2016, Boulder County has updated all existing adopted codes from the 2012 to the 2015 editions: In addition, two new codes were adopted, the International Existing Building Code and the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code.

The county adopted International Building Code (“IBC”) Appendix K, administrative provisions for the National Electrical Code, and added language that requires Level 2 electric vehicle recharging receptacles for new commercial, industrial and multiple-family parking lots.

We updated our language regarding design wind speeds so that existing nominal design wind speeds are converted to ultimate design wind speeds in alignment with ASCE 7-10.

We modified fire sprinkler requirements to create an exemption for open carports – so that they are not counted toward the 4,800-sq.-ft. floor area when dealing with fire sprinklers for additions to existing dwellings.

We amended the International Residential Code (“IRC”) fire department roof access requirements for solar PV panel spacing to be identical to those required in the City of Boulder Fire Code amendments – a compromise agreement that balances fire department access to the roof with the desire to maximize roof area for the installation of PV panels. 

Some big changes have been made to our wildfire hazard mitigation requirements! We have revised the ignition-resistant construction (wildfire mitigation) requirements in our amended IRC Section R327 to eliminate the 3 existing hazard zones and have a single set of construction requirements based upon the existing high hazard zone requirements. We have also defined the latest Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) guidelines as the standard for defensible space and we now allow a certificate from the Wildfire Partners ( program as an option for meeting defensible space requirements. This program offers a tremendous value and more flexibility for property owners!

One of the most significant changes in the 2015 IRC is that the ICC has introduced an “Energy Rating Index” (ERI) pathway for meeting the energy code requirements. Locally we have been using HERS scores for code compliance since 2008 and the introduction of the ERI in the national code has allowed us to bring the BuildSmart Code into far greater alignment with the national codes. While the Code calls it an ERI, the HERS Index and the ERI are essentially synonymous. Our ERI (HERS) targets continue to be more stringent than the national code, but they now integrate smoothly and our 2015 BuildSmart will have a much more familiar look and feel to anyone using the code who is familiar with the un-mended 2015 IRC.


This alignment also means that we are now able to take full advantage of the improvements in the national code, whose mandatory requirements have made some important advances with regards to good building science and building envelope construction. Please stay tuned for upcoming trainings that will be reviewing these requirements in detail:



In the 2015 Version of BuildSmart, we have also integrated a number of national programs into our code, such as Energy Star for Homes, the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready home program, Passive House, USGBC’s LEED for Homes, and the Living Building Challenge program.  The increased level of verification and field testing that these programs require not only protects the investment being made by the owner, but also will help the wider marketplace understand and properly value these efforts.  Additionally, by encouraging participation in these programs, we will be able to confidently maintain our leadership as a community that builds comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient homes. 


The 2015 adoption also includes the latest model codes provisions in the IRC and the IPC for non-potable water reuse systems, including gray water and rainwater systems, continuing the existing requirement that all such systems meet the requirements of the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  While this does not go as far as we might like, we are well positioned to take advantage of opportunities as fast as the evolution of the state statutes and rules allows. 


And finally, we have completely revised how BuildSmart handles remodels, additions, and modifications to existing homes.  This new format should be much easier to use, much easier to understand, and should lead projects towards energy efficiency improvements that align with the intended scope of the project. One of the key pieces of this is the ability for participation in EnergySmart ( to be used as a key ingredient toward compliance. If you are thinking about a project for an existing home, starting with an EnergySmart assessment is now your best first step!

Overall, the new codes have a theme of greater flexibility, and greater clarity. We are excited about this code cycle, and look forward to helping everyone learn more about it!

Sign up to receive email updates from Boulder County about the Boulder County Building Code (PDF) and Boulder County BuildSmart at:

For more information, contact Boulder County:


Ron Flax, Sustainability Examiner

Boulder County Land Use




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