Denver skyline with trees and a lake in the foreground

As the wave of green building standards continue to raise expectations across the country, the State of Colorado has taken a firm stance to improve their efforts towards more rapid decarbonization and sustainable living. In particular, the City of Denver has chosen a uniquely aggressive approach to their building standards, and as of May 1, 2023, they’ve now implemented an entirely new section of their building code: the 2022 Denver Green Code (DGC). In this article, we’ll discuss the top five most notable changes and clarifications about this new code section and how to address them as efficiently as possible for your project.

1. Limited Mandatory Use

The most important item to understand is that, while the 2022 DGC is extensive, new multifamily and commercial projects (and major commercial renovations) will only be required to comply with the “Limited Mandatory Use” path by default. This path requires that developers select a small number of provisions found within each chapter of the DGC. These chapters cover the major facets of sustainability in the built environment:

• Site Sustainability
• Water Use Efficiency
• Energy
• Indoor Environmental Quality
• Materials and Resources
• Construction and Plans for Operation

Although each chapter contains a multitude of provisions to choose from (briefly expanded upon later), the overall impact is relatively small compared to the next notable item:

2. Enhanced Use

This path is for projects seeking to demonstrate a sustainable approach to any new project in a manner that extends far beyond baseline expectations within the code. The Enhanced Use path uses the same categories as the Limited Mandatory Use path, but it significantly expands the requirements to make many of the optional provisions mandatory, and it requires developers to choose a substantial number of electives within each chapter. This path is voluntary in nature, though it serves as a preview of how the City of Denver may enforce more stringent standards in the future. However, projects pursuing the Enhanced Use path will very likely comply with the existing Denver Green Building Ordinance (GBO), which leads us into the next point:

3. The Denver Green Code does not supersede the Denver Green Building Ordinance.

Local developers and designers may be aware of a previously implemented Green Building Ordinance (GBO) which requires new construction and additions projects that are 25,000 square feet or more to install a cool roof alongside other sustainable measures, such as solar photovoltaics, green roof space, and/or LEED Gold certification. It is critical to understand that this ordinance is still in effect and that the DGC is now required alongside the GBO. In fact, the GBO is being updated for more modern standards, and this will go into effect on October 1, 2023. If your project team has not yet planned for either the DGC or the GBO, now is the time! This will have a major impact on your building construction and design, but the GBO inherently lends itself to the new 2022 Denver Energy Code as well. Speaking of which:

4. The Denver Green Code and the Denver Energy Code are not the same.

Another crucial development in the City of Denver’s sustainability efforts is their newly adopted Energy Code. The DEC will require projects to follow IECC 2021’s standards with many amendments for both residential and commercial applications, such as electric ready infrastructure for new appliances, electrification for space and water heating, electric vehicle supply equipment, and special certifications for commercial development energy modelers. While the 2022 DGC addresses energy provisions for both types of occupancies, the 2022 DEC is far more rigorous in nature. Project teams will wish to take note of the requirements in both code sections for this reason. As for complying with the considerably tamer DGC:

5. Many new provisions under the Denver Green Code are already common practice!

Although the sheer scope of these new requirements may seem daunting, there is very little to fear for developers looking to begin or continue building within the City of Denver. Most of these new provisions are either already commonplace within new construction, or they have direct benefits to the owner and/or occupant(s) that are difficult to deny in terms of ROI and operational savings. A few examples of these new provisions include:

• Prohibiting the installation of invasive plant species.
• Installing low-flow water fixtures and appliances.
• Performing duct leakage testing for new HVAC systems.
• Providing sufficient ventilation for occupied spaces.
• Providing recyclable waste areas onsite.
• Ensuring proper erosion and sedimentation control during construction.

Since the Limited Mandatory Use path only requires developers to comply with a small handful of provisions such as these, most owners, designers, and installers should be aware of these practices and how to expertly enact them.

The 2022 DGC will continue to enforce stricter requirements as the curve steepens over time, but with proper guidance and forethought, the City of Denver intends these hurdles to be simple enough for most savvy builders to clear, and VCA Green can provide this guidance for you! For more information, contact Moe Fakih and Robyn Vettraino below.

Contributing Writer: Burke Boydell, Project Manager, LEED Green Rater

Moe Fakih, Principal

Robyn Vettraino, Principal