How Denver’s green plans impact your buildings

Denver’s major sustainability measures enacted in the past few years. Courtesy Ambient Energy

Renee Azerbegi
President, Ambient

As buildings owners and managers, you have the responsibility to make impactful decisions on building dynamics. In a survey of 1,700 Denver citizens, 93% agreed that Denver should take aggressive local action to combat climate change, according to the city’s 80×50 Climate Action Plan, and the city and county of Denver is listening! We see from these surveys that there will be more demand from tenants for environmentally friendly buildings. Implementing energy and sustainability measures will reduce a building’s cost over its life. So, the question is – when will sustainability be a requirement for all property managers? Following are some of the required policies and codes Denver has adopted.

March 2016. Denver’s move toward being a more progressive city in terms of energy codes gained traction when it adopted the Denver Building Code, which is based on the 2015 version of the International Building Codes with Denver Amendments. Denver bypassed the 2012 versions of the IBC and went straight from a code based on IBC 2009 to a code based on the IBC 2015. This was an important step with efficiency gains of about 25 to 30% by using the more stringent (and more current) code baseline.

February 2017. Denver launched Energize Denver – a benchmarking ordinance that has achieved a 95% success rates for buildings within its first few years of operation covering all buildings in Denver over 25,000 square feet. The city publishes building energy performance data at to enable the market to better value energy efficiency. The city has seen an energy improvement of about 4.5% as buildings go through the benchmarking process. The intent is that after buildings are benchmarked, the ones with lower Energy Star scores may be required to start performing energy audits and retro-commissioning, as is required in Boulder, in order to meet Denver’s 80×50 Climate Action Plan as described below.

July 2018. Denver created an 80×50 Climate Action Plan calling for 80% reduction of emissions by 2050 from 2005 levels. Within this plan, all new buildings will be zero net energy by 2035 by code, and all existing buildings will have a 50% reduction in existing building performance by 2050. The following policies and future policies are being developed to support this plan.

November 2018. Denver released the rules of the Green Building Ordinance – for new buildings 25,000 sf or more and for existing buildings undergoing roof replacements:

• New buildings to add a cool roof plus meet one of many options including green space, payment toward off-site green space, 70% of roof area solar production, 12% energy savings above code, third-party certifications or a combination of approaches.

• Existing buildings to replace roof with a cool roof plus meet other similar but different options including green space, payment toward off-site green space, roof area solar production, enroll in Denver’s energy program or third-party certifications.

November 2019. The city adopted Denver’s 2019 code with amendments that are 15% better than IECC 2018. Some highlights of interest include:

• Continuous air barrier location, sealing details, verification and building thermal envelope testing – max of 0.40 CFM per square foot is required. If a building fails, a smoke tracer or infrared imaging must be done with corrective actions.

• Design buildings to be solarready. This is not hard or expensive to implement but must be planned for in advance.

• Electric vehicle charging station readiness, including requirements for EV-installed, EV-ready and EVcapable parking spaces based on the building type.

• For the marijuana industry, there are now lighting, dehumidification and cooling efficiency requirements for plant growth and maintenance.

Additionally, in November, Denver launched its first Denver Green Code – a voluntary code for pilot projects that is 10% better than the Denver code and is based on the International Green Construction Code. The Denver Green Code provides expedited permitting to those who choose to use it and meets the Green Building Ordinance. LEED Platinum buildings, net zero energy buildings, and Passive House are all compliance options within the Denver Green Code. Other items of interest in this code include requirements for water metering, dual piping, daylight analysis, indoor air quality testing and a whole lot more.

Code changes are the most effective instigator of city and statewide change. Financing options are available to reduce the costs of these new codes and policies such as Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy financing, tax credits and utility Demand Side Management programs. Denver is taking a leadership role in combatting global climate change with the launch of the GBO, Energize Denver and many new progressive codes amendments. You can expect many jurisdictions in Colorado and beyond to follow suit.

Featured in CREJ’s April 2020 Property Management Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.