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Louisville fire victims rally over building code requirements

Newly-passed 2021 building codes require residents to rebuild their homes to eco-friendly standards, but residents worry it will add thousands of dollars to costs.

LOUISVILLE, Colorado — People who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire rallied Sunday in hopes of pushing Louisville city council members to drop green building codes that residents say add an extra financial burden.

The city had passed those building codes in 2021, prior to the fire. Many residents are asking that those codes be dropped for fire victims. They're asking the city to allow them to adhere to less strict codes passed in 2018.

The 2021 codes require homeowners to build houses with efficient insulation, siding and other updates. The net-zero appendix also requires homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint.

According to city council documents, Xcel Energy is giving out a $7,500 rebate to homeowners who successfully make these changes to their home.

“We love being green, obviously. I care about the planet and I want to do good, but first and foremost I have to be able to stay in my community,” said Audrey DeBarros, who helped organize the rally in front of city hall on Sunday afternoon. “We don’t have clarity on anything related to the codes. It’s very confusing. We get mixed information.”

Earlier in February, contractors hired by the city presented estimates that green updates under the code would cost homeowners an additional $20,000 per house to make the changes. 

They estimated the cost would be roughly $7.50 per square foot. For a 2,800-square-foot home, that cost would be about $21,000.

A new state analysis to be presented at the next city council meeting indicates it will cost roughly $4,800 per house to build under the 2021 codes.

However, in a handout provided to residents, the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver's Marshall Fire Rebuilding Task Force estimated building costs were drastically more expensive than those offered by the city.

“That’s really the crux. Where’s the truth? We don’t know. I don’t think anyone truly has an answer,” Rex Hickman, a Louisville resident of 45 years, said. “Until we have an answer, it seems entirely unfair to impose that on people that involuntarily have to rebuild.”

Residents said contractors can’t give them quotes because they don’t fully know how much the cost of rebuilds will be with the codes in place. In some cases, residents are reporting that contractors are moving forward with residents in Superior instead because they have definitive answers about codes that need to be adhered to.

“The town of Superior right next to us decided to suspend their code, and it opened the door to move forward with their plans to rebuild. We are continually waiting for city council to make a decision. In the meantime, what was already a short supply of builders and materials is becoming less and less available to us,” Hickman said.

Kim Meyer and Dave Baron had just moved into their Louisville home three months before the fire. They are currently paying a 30-year mortgage on rubble. Rebuilding is their only financial option.

“One of the reasons we were so excited to be in Louisville is for the community, and to feel like we are being turned on right when we're joining -- we have neighbors that aren’t coming back,” Meyer said.

The city of Louisville is expected to discuss the building codes again at a city council meeting Tuesday.

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