La Plata County adopts updated building codes

Builders support new rules but worry about rising costs

La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously adopted an update to building codes, the first refresh of codes since 2004. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file

La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously adopted an update to building codes, the first refresh of codes since 2004.

La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously adopted updated building codes, marking the first refresh to the codes since 2004.

“Certainly since 2004 to today, the industry has changed,” said Butch Knowlton, director of building and emergency management. “And in order to be able to reflect and capture a lot of the industry changes, you have to update codes periodically.”

In January 2015, the county started updating the codes, holding more than 20 meetings with county employees, members of the Board of Appeals and representatives with the industry, including architects, engineers and construction companies.

Building codes apply to all private land within the county, including commercial and residential structures, and rules can include regulations on plumbing, electrical, mechanical work, fuel and gas use and energy conservation.

Everyone in the planning process for the building code update, Knowlton said, was well-aware of rising construction costs in the county.

“With all that in mind, we tried to replicate what we’ve been doing over the years and incorporate certain procedures and processes we’ve already been using,” he said.

Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said most contractors are already using many of the building codes in the update.

“These changes (to the code) are best practices for most builders,” she said.

For instance, Knowlton said the code now has specific requirements on the weight of snow load a roof can hold. It’s something that has been enforced since the 1970s, but it is now in the code.

More clarity about what soils can be used in construction is in the code. Knowlton said 140 different soil types are in the county, some of them can be detrimental to the environment.

“We tried to bring clarity to the code so people can understand it,” he said.

Ryan Voegeli, president of the Home Building Association of Southwest Colorado, said the trade group supports the updated building codes but is wary of the potential increase it may cause to construction costs.

La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake, too, expressed concerns about raising the cost of construction.

“My biggest concern is cost,” Blake said. “We’ve seen building costs skyrocket. We’ve seen engineering costs skyrocket.”

Ultimately, all three commissioners approved the codes.

“I think it’s an acceptable level of cost increase,” La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff said. “But I’d be disappointed if the cost was higher than that.”

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