SmartRegs: Municipal Benchmarking Ordinance in Boulder, CO

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Nationwide, approximately 33% of all housing stock is rental units, and in Boulder, CO, rental units represent almost 50% of all housing.  With such a significant portion of its housing rented out to tenants, multifamily residential buildings represent a tremendous opportunity for building owners in the city to reduce their energy use and cut down on monthly bills.  We’ve written before about the opportunities lying untapped in multifamily energy efficiency, now let’s take a look at what the folks in CO have come up with.


SmartRegs – Improving Boulder’s Rental Housing Stock

SmartRegs, adopted in 2011, is a local ordinance requiring that all rental housing in the City of Boulder meet certain energy efficiency requirements by 2019.  If a building owner fails to upgrade their building to SmartReg standards in time, they will be denied renewal of the rental license until the building is brought into compliance. 

The efficiency standard can be met via two paths: prescriptive and performance. The prescriptive path requires building owners to earn 100 points from a checklist of efficiency measures developed by the city.  The performance path requires that the building undergo a full energy audit, complete with the energy modeling needed to give the building a HERS rating.  A building must earn a HERS rating of 120 or better in order to comply with the regulation.  

Support from the City

The City received grants from the federal government’s Better Buildings Program to create a new initiative designed to help building owners comply with the ordinance.  The EnergySmart program provides home inspections for a fee, as well as complimentary energy advisors to owners of rental housing.  These advisors guide building owners through the compliance process, pointing out available rebates, and making recommendations of efficiency measures that will allow non-compliant buildings to meet the 2019 deadline. 

EnergySmartSince the adoption of SmartRegs in 2011, over 21% of Boulder’s rental housing has received initial inspections.  Of the more than 5,000 units inspected, 2,600 units were deemed compliant.  While there is clearly still work to be done, the program has six more years before the penalties go into effect, and the City reports being ahead of schedule in it’s benchmarking efforts.

Progress and Challenges

 In a report commissioned by the DOE’s Building America program, the Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings details the successes and challenges of the SmartRegs program as of April 2012.  The report (which is worth a read if you’re interested in learning more about this program, link below) finds that the prescriptive and performance paths to compliance yield comparable improvement in a building’s performance.  As the prescriptive path is significantly cheaper and less invasive to implement, this finding bodes well for the ability of building owners to comply with the regulation in a cost-effective way. 

Interestingly, the same report goes on to mention that energy modeling often yields inaccurate data for older, inefficient homes, and that without real data of how these buildings are using energy, making accurate savings predictions is difficult.   

Some Background on the City That Produced SmartRegs

The City of Boulder, CO stands as something of a poster child for forward-thinking cities adapting to climate change.  Nestled at base of the Rocky Mountains, just north of Denver, Boulder (pop. 97,000), is well known as a hub of outdoor living, green innovation, and a younger, left-leaning population.  In 2002 the city adopted a comprehensive Climate Action Plan (CAP), which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol; and while as-of 2012 the city’s emissions were still above targeted thresholds, the CAP continues to create legislation and innovative programs meant to reduce GHG emissions, lower energy and water use, and reduce municipal solid waste. 

For more information about SmartRegs, Boulder’s Climate Action Plan, and a report diving deep to case studies of SmartReg compliant homes, check out the links below:

Evaluation of Boulder, CO, SmartRegs Ordinance and Better Buildings Program

Boulder's Climate Action Plan


Boulder SmartRegs