HOAs can be big buzzkills full of nosy busybodies who bust chops for seemingly minor infractions like where to put trash for pickup or which shrubs to select. But when it comes to energy-efficiency features and renewable energy generation, HOAs can say how to install those things, but they can’t say “no”.
Here in Colorado, real estate law links fossil-fuel use to clean air, encouraging anything that reduces burning oil, gas and coal. (‘Remember Denver’s brown cloud?) If fossil-fuel-free features run afoul of HOA guidelines, those rules and regs no longer win out.
When it comes to renewable energy, the law is short and sweet[i], and it lumps using renewable energy right along with displaying the American flag and political signage. (How appropriate as I can’t think of a more patriotic act than reducing fossil-fuel use. ‘Another day, another blog post.)
“ … An [common interest community] association shall not effectively prohibit renewable energy generation devices….”
That includes both solar electric (PV, photovoltaic) and solar hot water (the thicker plates for hot water heating, often in twos or threes).
Wind is another issue, and anyone looking to install turbines may bump against zoning codes and “bulk-plane” limits – the invisible, sized boxes that zoning allows for a home or building. I worked with a client last year on a small-wind addition to a townhome complex. Unfortunately, the best solution we could come up with was a 60-foot pinwheel turbine, which would generate enough juice to power common area lighting.
As wind turbines become more sophisticated and artful, however, I believe we’ll see those mentioned, too. In the meantime, urban kinetic and building-mounted turbines are legit, if diminutive power generators.
Energy-efficiency measures are described in our law as anything that reduces fossil fuel use,[ii] with several examples cited, though I think you could make a case for a whole host of features.
AWNINGS OR SHADE STRUCTURES – These can reduce the temperature around a home or building and thwart solar heat gain. I’m working on a project right now where we’re intending solar awnings – a twofer combining both shading and renewable energy.
GARAGE OR ATTIC FANS – They mechanically ventilate hot spaces, and any louvering with those is specifically mentioned as OK.
EVAPORATIVE COOLERS (also known as “swamp coolers”) – Even the best, highest-efficiency units have a clunky, box-like appearance, but they sip energy to cool homes in summer compared to kilowatt-guzzling air conditioning.
HIGH-EFFICIENCY LIGHTING & SOLAR CHARGING – Specifically mentioned is the first-gen curly-cheese-fry CFL – compact fluorescent lighting. If the light color is a problem (think blue porch lights), that’s easily fixable by switching to LEDs, which now offer limitless mirroring of the color spectrum. Solar-powered landscape lighting is now also protected.
CLOTHESLINES – They’re definitely down-market, and the most efficient way to dry clothes.
HOAs do have the right to guide the aesthetics of these features (within reason). But the days of HOAs putting the kibosh on design elements like these are over.
Hands-down, the biggest green-building feature mentioned is electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations, and the Real Estate Commission dedicated two full pages to them.
“The widespread use of plug-in electrical vehicles can dramatically improve energy efficiency and air quality for all Coloradans and should be encouraged wherever possible.”[iii]
Real estate law even suggests common interest communities apply for EV charging station vehicle grants to provide “limited common elements.” Think of a limited common element like a parking space assigned to a particular home or unit.
It’s a great day now that slow-to-change real estate laws address issues like clean air, fossil fuels and efficiency, and renewable energy. If you’re buying or selling, especially residential properties, have your legal or real estate representative look at the common-interest community documents to see if any of this is mentioned. If so, you may have a case for an HOA smack-down.
And if you'd like a copy of the chapter that covers these issues, email me, and I'll send it to you.
Melissa Baldridge is a sustainability professional and licensed real estate broker in Colorado. This blog is not to be construed as legal advice, though. Please consult a real estate attorney for specific legal interpretations about your situation.
[i] Colorado Real Estate Manual, S 38.33.3-106.5, C.R.S.
[ii] Ibid., S 38.33.3-106.7
[iii] Ibid., S38.33.3-106.8
IMAGES: TOP: The lovely Gladys Kravitz from "Bewitched," (from McCollomParkPicayune.wordpress.com), MIDDLE: Wind turbines (FastCoDesign.com), BOTTOM: Rules (from HawaiiLife.com).