Interested in the unique nature of completing a pop top, or major residential construction project for your home in Boulder or the and surrounding areas? Read or listen to this interview with the owner of Silver Contracting, Elliot Silver to hear what the building code and zoning differences are.
The slightly edited transcript is below the video interview conducted by the host of the 24-7 home show.
Mike Bayes: Thank you very much for joining us. We have what I think is a very interesting topic today “Building in Boulder”, Colorado, because as some of us who are near the business and those of you, like you, who are in the business know it’s kind of unique.
It’s a topic we haven’t covered on 24/7 Home Show, so we’d love to talk to you about it. Tell me a little bit about your company: how long you’ve been around and what type of projects you’ve actually done in Boulder.
Elliot Silver: I worked as a carpenter for other construction companies through the ’90s in and around Boulder area. I started Silver Contracting in early 2000-2001, and since then we’ve been doing a wide variety of home improvement projects. Everything from simple, basic remodels, complex kitchen remodels, additions, pop-tops, a lot of basement finishes, and also a lot of commercial work.
We’ve really got a wide experience of dealing with the building department and building and zoning codes.
Mike Bayes: How many years have you been working in Boulder and generally as a contractor?
Elliot Silver: As a contractor, I’d say 15 years now.
Mike Bayes: I think the big question is what’s the difference? When you’re working in Boulder as a contractor, what should the homeowner know? What’s the difference between maybe working in another Denver area suburb?
Elliot Silver: As most people understand in Boulder, Boulder has some of the highest energy codes in the country. [02:00] The city of Boulder actually, they’re very helpful with navigating through what you need to do to build, but they definitely do have more codes, more restrictions, than most cities.
When you do work with a contractor that understands that, it’s beneficial. Before you even apply for a permit, I could help you through that planning phase so you know what to expect. We can look at your plans and know that you’re putting into a remodel what the city’s going to require. When you go in ahead of time with that knowledge, it just makes the whole building process a lot more seamless and a lot less stalls and headaches through the building process for the homeowner.
Mike Bayes: I know several contractors who really do not work in Boulder just because of the Boulder permitting system is more complicated or more difficult. Can you give us some examples of a home addition, perhaps? What would be different in the building code in Boulder than in Denver or West Minister or something like that?
Elliot Silver: In Boulder, if you’re talking about an addition, there’s two parts to that. You have the building code, which covers the amount of insulation used in the walls, the way things are actually built, what we refer to as building safety. The [inaudible 03:27] entrances, et cetera. Then there’s the zoning. In Boulder, they have a thing called a [Bullet-point 03:35] issue, and then there’s also solar shading. These zoning issues are a little complicated. Basically, it comes down to the size [and scape 03:40] your lot.
What they want to do is they just don’t want people building a house that impacts the neighbors. It’s a difficult thing, because sometimes a client from me will want a certain item, or I want to build my house like this. I also do feel that it’s fair; I wouldn’t want to be [04:00] the neighbor that has a place with a view of the Flat Irons or a view of the mountains, and all of a sudden they’re staring at a wall.
What the city has done is they’ve really tried hard to create codes that work for everybody in aspect, going to try to let people build their houses out in the way that they want, but not build something that affects the sun, the view, and everything else on the adjoining property, neighboring property.
Mike Bayes: From a permit standpoint, what would be the energy regulations that might be different for a Boulder homeowner versus Denver?
Elliot Silver: The National Building Code requires typically an R38 roof insulation. That’s just a number that R stands for resistance value. R19 fiberglass insulation in walls. Boulder requires an R21 insulation in the walls, and an R54 in the ceilings. It actually goes beyond that, because what Boulder has that most cities don’t have is they want an overall energy rating of the house, which is called a [Herz rating 05:06]. It’s a bit of a complicated formula to just explain in a minute, but a brief answer is if you build a brand new 2-story house today through the National Building Code, obviously it’s called the International Building Code, that house would perform at what they say is 100. The lower that number, the less energy that house uses. That encompasses the insulation in your walls, your appliances, your everything, electric. It’s the overall energy of that house in a year.
What the city of Boulder wants is a remodel to have that number be a 75 or less. There’s 2 ways to get to that number. That’s kind of the basic difference. Just about every other municipality we work in, Lafayette, Louisville, they don’t require that overall rating. They just require you to International Building Code. [06:00]
Mike Bayes: Is it hard to get to a 75?
Elliot Silver: It’s really not, as long as you plan it from the beginning. What becomes complicated is if you start the project, assuming you’re just going to build to code, and then you realize you have to meet this. That’s where hiring a contractor that knows about this ahead of time is really beneficial. That becomes really hard to retrofit. If you do it from the beginning and put all the pieces in place then it’s not hard to meet that code at all.
Mike Bayes: Are there differences in fire protection codes in Boulder, or water taps and those type of things?
Elliot Silver: No, not really. In multi-family and commercial construction, the answer is yes, but in single-family residential remodeling and building, the answer is no. The fire ratings are all the same.
Mike Bayes: I had heard at one point that Boulder’s a little more expensive if you’re adding a new water source like a bathroom or a sink or something like that. One, you may not be able to get it, or two, they charge for it. You know anything about that?
Elliot Silver: That’s a good question, Mike. They actually, yeah, the city used to charge for an addition, say, if you’re adding the master bedroom bath. They used to charge a fee per plumbing fixture in your permit fee. They eliminated that. They recently had gotten rid of that, though the good news is I did an addition probably 10 years ago, and there was about $5000 in fees for the plumbing fixtures in addition to the permit fee, which made the permit fee extremely expensive. They eliminated that because they just got too much negative feedback about it, I’d say.
One thing that the city of Boulder has that most, they don’t have a water bill. The city of Boulder funds its water department through building permits.
Mike Bayes: Okay, that’s great. That’s good [08:00] information, because Boulder… That leads to the next question, which is if you did- by the way, I have your website up on the screen for people who want to learn more about you, that is SilverContracting.com and you’re based in Lafayette right next to
Boulder. I should also mention, you may be seeing this on the 24/7 Home Show, or you may be seeing it on Elliot’s website as well. What’s the price difference? If I’m living in Boulder and I want to do a home addition or a major remodel, let’s say we do a [pop top 08:31]. Is there a percentage price difference between a Boulder pop top and a Denver pop top because of permits and regulations, or is it pretty much the same?
Elliot Silver: I would say it’s pretty much the same as the Denver. There may be a little bit of increased cost in your insulation, but I would be surprised if it’s more than 3-5%. I think Denver is pretty much in line on building permits in the fees as Boulder is.
Mike Bayes: I know Denver right now, this is 2015 summer, I know Denver is taking a little while to get permits out. How’s Boulder, their department, as far as speed of getting a permit through?
Elliot Silver: It really depends on the size of the project. If you’re doing a remodel project, what we call within the envelope of the existing building, so you’re not changing the envelope of the existing building, you can usually get an over to the counter permit in Boulder if you have the right documentation going in. That comes back to having a contractor that’s familiar with it and knowing what you need to apply.
If you’re expanding your home in a pop top or addition, I’d say it’s probably 3-5 weeks for a permit right now in Boulder.
Mike Bayes: How’s that compared to Denver?
Elliot Silver: I believe Denver’s a lot quicker. Unfortunately, I don’t do a whole lot of work in Denver. It’s been awhile since I’ve pulled a permit down there [10:00]. Last time I was, the economy was much slower, but I’d say they’re probably half that time.
Mike Bayes: That brings me to a good point: you do most of your work around Boulder and in Boulder. How important is that to a selection of a contractor if you’re in the Boulder city or even county? How important is that experience?
Elliot Silver: I feel it’s really important, because in construction, there’s a lot of things that come up. Qualified experience contractor is going to be very good at dealing with the issues that arise every day. You want someone that’s local, that if need be, if I need to run and see something, it’s very difficult for me if I’m an hour away and I have other things going on. If you’re local, it’s much easier to manage a project and I think the result for the
homeowner is a much greater feeling of their projects being taken care of, as well as less chance for things to come up and keep going down a road that is bad. I’m having a hard time wording this. Dealing with problems as they arise, common sense and logistics say if you’re there, you’re much more effective at dealing with it.
Mike Bayes: We’ve got about a minute left. I just want to say, clearly, you’re very educated and knowledgeable in the Boulder area and northern suburbs. That’s very important. I know that you’re a big part of the community, you and your wife, Lorie, and your son. I know that you’re a flag football coach with the National Flag League. Well-respected with that. I’ll see you at the tournament this weekend. I would encourage anybody who is in the Boulder county or Boulder city area., and looking at a major remodel, a pop top or a basement finish, to contact Elliot. I really appreciate your time today, Elliot. Your website is up on the screen now, again, folks can see you at www.SilverContracting.com. If possible, I’d love to have you back and talk more specifically [12:00] about what your company does and answer some more questions for the public. Would that be okay?
Elliot Silver: That would be great, Mike, and I appreciate the opportunity.
Mike Bayes: It was great. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you on the next episode of the 24/7 Home Show.
Elliot Silver: All right.