Routt County Commissioners show interest in ban on snowmelt systems, no matter how they are powered
Current recommendations from the Building Department would only allow for snowmelt systems if they were powered 100% by renewables.
Each of the Routt County Commissioners showed interest in banning outdoor snowmelt systems with very few exceptions on Monday, a step that could be taken when the county adopts updated building codes later this year.
Under recommendations from the Routt County Building Department for updated building codes, snowmelt systems for both commercial and residential properties would almost effectively be banned with a few exceptions for ADA-designated accessible routes or where required by federal, state and local regulations.
Those recommendations would also allow snowmelt without limitation when the system is powered entirely by a renewable energy source, though coming up with the renewable energy needed to power such a system may be incredibly hard to accomplish.
Both Commissioners Tim Redmond and Tim Corrigan expressed interest in not allowing snowmelt systems at all. Commissioner Sonja Macys too showed some interest in a blanket ban, noting that only those with deep pockets could afford to build a snowmelt system that was run on 100% renewables.
“Basically, what we’re doing here is saying if you are a wealthy person, you can have (snowmelt systems) as long as you can pay a whole lot of money to figure out how to actually be consistent with the climate action plan with 100% renewable energy,” Macys said. “From an equity and fairness standpoint, is this really what we want to say, that if you have a trophy home and you can afford to put in systems then you go for it.”
The county commissioners will consider adopting updated codes on first reading in September. When adopted by the county, the codes would apply only to buildings in unincorporated Routt County. Each municipality will adopt these code updates independently and can make their own changes.
Putting in a 100% renewable snowmelt system is so expensive for two reasons — the amount of energy snowmelt systems consume and the limitations on home solar or net metering required by Yampa Valley Electric Association. Those limitations cap a residential solar array at 10 kW, which likely isn’t enough on its own to power a robust snowmelt system.
Routt County Building Official Todd Carr has been working on updated codes since last year and has worked with local contractors to get feedback and craft recommendations. In his presentation to commissioners on Monday, he said some contractors would prefer to not allow snowmelt as well, but that they do because it is something that clients ask for.
Carr said that roughly 40% of contractors that attended public forums on the updated codes said they supported not allowing snowmelt systems at all and another 40% felt they should be allowed up to a certain square footage. About 20% felt there should be no restriction on snowmelt systems.
“If we continue to allow snowmelt systems, we don’t feel we will actually gain ground on our (climate) goals, but rather either trade off with improvements we make inside the building or we’re going to lose ground and fall backwards,” Carr said. “We survived for decades living in these snowy regions without having any outdoor snowmelt system itself and we believe these systems are not needed, rather an amenity versus a necessity.”
The Building Department’s recommendations will be presented to Steamboat Springs City Council on July 18. Steamboat’s decision on snowmelt systems will have the largest impact, as the majority of snowmelt systems are within the city limits. Carr said he wasn’t aware of any buildings in Yampa or Oak Creek and only a handful of properties in Hayden that employed snowmelt systems.
The commissioners did not make a final decision on how far they would go toward banning snowmelt entirely and expressed some reservations to going that far. For example, Corrigan noted that it would stop a resident in the unincorporated county who has a disability from installing such systems.
Building codes are updated every three years, so no matter what the commissioners opt to do now, it could be changed during the next code update.
Macys noted that Pitkin and Eagle counties are wishing they had done more in terms of snowmelt earlier, and now was a chance for Routt County to try to get ahead of the issue.
“I feel like you are coming over to the radical side,” Corrigan said, noting Macys’ seemingly growing interest in a ban.
“How do you know I haven’t always been there?” Macys responded.
Top Photo Caption: The city of Steamboat Springs' decision on snowmelt systems will largely have the biggest impact, as most snowmelt systems are built within the city.