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Concrete Monolith

A construction worker in a cherry picker gives a sense of scale to the side of the parking garage at The Standard student housing development.

The city of Flagstaff is looking to update its building and fire codes.

The changes are generally designed to make new buildings greener and could lower costs for homeowners in the long term, although the upfront cost of construction could increase.

When the city changes some building regulations, such as when changing zoning codes, the city can be liable to pay property owners for any lost revenue that the changes cause. But City Building Official Amy Palmer said that is not the case when it comes to changing building codes.

The new codes won't affect existing structures or projects that have submitted building permit applications prior to the new codes taking effect.

If a property owner builds an addition to a house or if maintenance must be done, that work will have to be compliant with the new codes, Palmer said.

The city last adopted new building codes in 2013.

Flagstaff City Council is set to take up the new codes in June, but weighed in during this week’s council work session.

Councilmember Charlie Odegaard said he was worried if some of the changes were implemented, the cost of building new structures in Flagstaff could increase. And given that many residents struggle to find housing options they can afford, that may not be a good idea, Odegaard said.

For example, the new building codes would require wiring capable of charging an electric car installed to every residential parking space. That wouldn’t affect new apartment complexes, but it would impact the garage of a newly built single-family residence.

Odegaard said he understood that it may cost less to install that wiring during construction compared to the cost for an individual homeowner, but worried it was just one more expense making homes less affordable in the city.

At the same time, the number of electric cars on the roads may be increasing substantially -- a projected 35% of vehicles sold in the United States and Canada by 2025, according to a study by J.P. Morgan.

For apartment complexes and commercial parking lots, the codes would require about three electric vehicle charging spaces for every 100 parking spots.

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Odegaard pointed to another expense from the new codes: a proposed requirement to test how air-tight a building is.

According to city staff, the goal is that because air-tight buildings better keep in heat in the winter and cool air in the summer, residents will see far lower utility costs and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni said he believed in the end, these upfront costs would be beneficial for residents in the long term.

“Some of these tests I think will really pay off and save our community a lot of money and also support the planet,” Shimoni said. “I do see how much is wasted on heating and cooling.”

Some code changes will save builders money.

For one, the codes modify the requirements for how capable new buildings are of surviving earthquakes. That will reduce the amount of materials needed to build.

The codes also increase the load-bearing weights for rooftops when dealing with heavy snows. Currently the code requires rooftops be able to bear 50 pounds of snow, but that will be increasing to 60 pounds.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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