Where Are They Now? Santa Fe, NM

by Charlotte Volpe, BCAP

In 2010, BCAP created a list of Places to Watch that were making strides in enacting energy efficient building codes. Now, we are going back to these nine jurisdictions to track their progress and see what other innovations they’ve added six years later. We will be looking for other places to watch in the future as cities lead the way with sustainability plans and energy saving goals.


BCAP identified Santa Fe as a place to watch due to their residential green code adoption, citywide sustainability plan, and Water Conservation Plan. Santa Fe is rapidly growing, with a 2015 estimate showing a 23.8% population increase since the 2010 U.S. Census. The city’s population growth in that time span outpaced any other major city in the Southwestern United States, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, El Paso, and Denver. With that population increase comes more demand for housing, which in turn creates more demand for sustainable building projects.

At the beginning of 2012, the State of New Mexico adopted the 2009 New Mexico Energy Conservation Code (NMECC), based on the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) with state-specific amendments; this is the current code as of August 2016. Homeowners are able to qualify for state tax credits by having their home certified under the 2012 National Green Building Standard ICC-700, including some additional specific requirements verified by a HERS rater.

Santa Fe has also adopted a Residential Green Building Code (RGBC), which applied a green building rating system to all new residential construction and exceeded the state code in energy efficient requirements. One key requirement is that a HERS score, although an optional path in the state code, is required for all residential construction as part of the RGBC of Santa Fe. Another progressive requirement of the RGBC includes a HERS rating provision that becomes more stringent as the size of the structure increases. Other strengthening provisions include points for sun-tempered design, passive heating, and solar hot water systems.

The Sustainable Santa Fe plan continues to be implemented, and the city government presents a variety of annual awards to area individuals and groups in categories such as Affordable Green Building, Youth-Led initiatives, Low Carbon Transportation, and Innovative Sustainability Research. Last year, the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission released a benchmarks report to identify and establish measurements that will help the city achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2040.

The Water Conservation Plan, especially important in Santa Fe’s arid climate, offers incentives and rebates, resources, water saving tips, including tips on finding and fixing leaks, and also lists water conservation regulations, such as a ban on outdoor watering during the day in the summer months. Since the program’s inception in 1997, Santa Fe residents have reduced their gallons per capita per day (GPCD) water consumption by 39%. Last summer, the city announced that the average GPCD had fallen to 95, making Santa Fe the first city to cross the 100-gallon threshold. Water conservation rebates and incentives encourage home- and business owners to replace high-use water fixtures and appliances at existing buildings with newer, efficient technologies; these include high-efficiency dishwashers and clothes washers, rain barrels, and custom retrofits for commercial properties. The water conservation rebates are updated annually, and the most recent rebates took effect in spring/summer 2016. In October 2016, the Water Efficiency Rating Score (WERS) was added to the RGBC; this is a predictive, performance-based approach to residential water efficiency and water resource management; after a phase-in period, all new single-family homes will be required to meet a WERS of 70 or less. Like the HERS index, WERS uses a scale from 0 to 100, with a lower score indicating increased efficiency.

BCAP applauds the city of Santa Fe’s early and continued commitment to innovation and stewardship of green building construction standards. City leaders are currently updating a commercial building standard and should look to the national model energy code, the IECC, for guidance on this as well as future iterations of the energy chapter of the RGBC. The 2015 IECC is now surpassing even Santa Fe’s HERS score and air leakage requirements; it has already been adopted by many states and cities, and is helping to shape a more sustainable building stock for future generations.

This story has been updated to reflect the addition of the Water Efficiency Rating Score and its requirements for single-family properties.

Go to BCAP’s New Mexico State Code Status Page →

Photo credit: Diana Robinson/Creative Commons