Explaining the BuildSmart Retrofit Methods In Boulder County

Date Published: June 3, 2021

Boulder, Colorado has some very unique building requirements. If you are a builder that works within the county or the city, you know that it’s now always easy to understand what’s needed in regards to energy performance.

The fun part is the county and the city each have very different requirements. Today we are going to focus on the COUNTY requirements for remodels, alterations, or retrofits. This falls under what is known as BuildSmart.

Boulder county’s code requirements for retrofits are based on how large the project is. This can be beneficial for smaller projects as the requirements are less stringent. The county provides a table below to help you understand where your project falls:

BuildSmart Retrofit Methods

A question that we get all the time is, “What does ‘Choose a Retrofit Measure’ mean?”

The county outlines 9 retrofit measures. These measures are a list of options that improve the energy efficiency of a home. You have to choose the allotted number of options and work that into your remodel plan.

If some of these items are already completed in the home, that counts towards the total and you have one less measure to undertake.

The options are outlined in the table below:

BuildSmart Retrofit Methods - Full list

As you can see, there are many options all differing in costs and difficulty. Some may work for your project and others may not. Our resident energy expert, Joe Ophoff, explains each option in the video below:

The 9 BuildSmart Retrofit Methods

1. Replace Furnace or Boiler with Condensing Appliance.

Older heating devices with standard draft flues are typically lower efficiency units in the 80% range. There are higher efficiency gas burning condensing units that are power vented. These units will have PVC vent pipes and intake lines and can be up to 96% efficient.

If it makes sense to replace your heating device during the remodel, or if you already have a high-efficiency unit, this is a good measure to opt for.

2. Replace Water Heater with Condensing Appliance. 

Just like the heating equipment, there are higher efficiency versions of water heaters as well. Typically, when you think of a condensing water heater, you think of a tankless unit, but there are condensing units that have storage tanks as well that are slightly less costly.

Since water heaters need to be replaced more frequently than furnaces or boilers, it might be a good option for a retrofit that has a very old unit that will need to be replaced soon anyway.

3. Air Sealing to 5 ACH

While there is already an air sealing requirement for all retrofits in the county, opting for this method is stating that you are planning on achieving an even tighter home than what is needed. In the county. Any remodel will need to have a blower door test at the end of construction and the building will need to be tighter than 7 ACH (Air Changes Per Hour – a measurement of the tightness of a home). With this method, you are opting to achieve a 30% better score than what is required.

Air sealing improvements can be a difficult proposition if you are only remodeling a portion of the home. The county also requires an “Energy Assessment” on the front end of construction in some cases where a blower door test will be done. If you get a low ACH reading before construction starts, then it is likely only going to get better after construction.

We recommend you go this route for an easy method if that initial blower door test’s ACH is already under or close to 5 ACH.

4. Electrical Vehicle Charging Station

This method is straightforward. The county would like you to install an EV charging station on the property. Most commonly found in the garage. This can be a great and easy solution if you already plan on doing some electrical work as this usually just requires adding one breaker and charging devices.

5. Balance Mechanical Ventilation

Home ventilation technology and building science have come a long way. As homes get more air sealed, make-up air needs to be introduced in order to keep the home healthy.

While there are many ways to do this, the most energy-efficient way is to use an ERV or HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator). These devices are typically attached to a forced-air heating system and exchange interior and exterior air in an efficient way that doesn’t cause additional air leaks.

While this can be great for the overall health and comfort of your home, it is not always the most cost-effective solution if you don’t plan on messing with the heating system.

6. Water Efficiency Retrofit

This section is fairly simple. The county wants to see water-saving devices installed in the home. This means replacing all the aerators, showerheads, and toilets in the home with low-flow devices. The requirements for what the flow rates are vary depending on the device.

The other option here is to have one energy star washing machine or dishwasher. If you already have one in the home, this requirement is fulfilled.

7. Radon System

Adding a radon mitigation system to a home is usually reserved for homes with high radon levels. If you are unsure of your home’s radon levels or what radon is, we recommend you read our article about radon levels in Colorado.

If you do have high radon levels, which many homes in Colorado do, adding a radon mitigation system can help mitigate those issues and also check one box on the HomeSmart Retrofit options.

8. PV System

PV stands for photovoltaic, meaning solar panels that create energy. This is probably the most costly item on the list but is a big energy saver that can pay itself off over time.

If something like this interests you, or if the panels are required for a different reason then this might be a good option for you.

9. Conditioned Crawlspace

If your home is older and has an uninsulated crawlspace, the absolute best bang for your buck will be to condition your crawlspace. Not only will this complete one of the retrofit options, but it will also give you a big boost in home energy efficiency and comfort levels.

Older vented crawlspaces make homes very uncomfortable with large temperature swings. Building science has moved beyond this technique and onto a seal and conditioned crawlspace design. While it may not be the cheapest option on the list, it will greatly improve your home.


Hopefully, this article and video help explain the different options that are available to you when you are remodeling a home in Boulder County and need to meet BuildSmart Retrofit Methods.

This is just one small section of the retrofit code so if you have further questions feel free to reach out or comment below!

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About the Author: Joe Ophoff

Joe Ophoff has been working as an energy efficiency specialist since 2014. He is the Energy Services Manager at Scott Home Inspection in Colorado.

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