This past fall I sat in on a residential energy code meeting. The City of Houston was finalizing their code for the start of 2012, with the goal of exceeding the International Energy Code requirements.
What struck me most was the dialogue between builders and “greeners”. There’s definitely a difference of opinion between the two. Builders are focused on the bottom line, and they talked quite a bit about the difficulty of getting a mortgage. A $2000 increase on a $110,000 house can make all the difference for a mortgage approval. And if you’re a builder constructing 100 homes, a small increase in cost can add up. As they said, they are watching every nickel.
On the other hand, the “greeners” argued for long range planning. That group in the room pushed for the mandatory installation of a conduit for future solar panels in new homes. Insulated attic doors were one of the other energy saving items added to the code. It does cost money to save money.
The first record of building codes is from Babylonian times, 1780 BC. They had an eye for an eye attitude about building – if a structure failed and caused a death, then the punishment for the builder was death. Talk about motivation to build well! Other building codes have been motivated by catastrophic events. The London fire of 1666 and the Chicago Fire of 1871 both motivated construction standards. More recently Hurricane Andrew in 1992 raised the standards on for wind resistance.
Building code’s primary purpose is to protect our safety, welfare and well being. Codes dictate a wide range of things – from bedroom windows that are large enough to provide an exit in case of a fire, to enough outlets in the kitchen (so lengths of power cords do not pose a hazard, to ventilation in a bathroom.
Energy Codes are relatively new. There have been voluntary programs, like Energy Star, developed by the Department of Energy (DOE), and LEED by the US Green Building Council. Energy Star, LEED and other programs require energy testing that verifies the actual performance of a home with air infiltration testing. Energy efficiency related requirements for our standard codes have dictated things like the R value of insulation, the efficiency of a furnace or the amount of glazing allowed. The revised code will include energy testing for the first time, as one option for proving a home’s efficiency. Other options including include installing solar panels to achieve efficiency.
What’s important to understand is that energy codes will be more stringent. And at some point most new homes may be built with a performance testing and given a rating. If you are building a new home, consider building to a higher standard and having the house tested. You’ll be given a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating. No one would buy a car without that MPG sticker on the window. And with a HERS score in hand you’ll be prepared for the day that homes have a performance sticker on the window too. It might seem like an extra burden to go through the testing process, but one day you may be glad you did, and at this point the City of Houston would agree with that – they want you to go through the energy testing process.
Or maybe we can consider the Babylonian’s concept of builder responsibility; - the builder of the house pays for the utility bills.
(Not all builders that I know would agree with the “bottom line” point of view. The builders mentioned here have a specific point of view that does not represent all general contractors. I think that many custom builders would prefer to build quality over quantity. They would be happy to focus on high performance as budgets and owner priorities allow.)
Posted: 1/30/2012 9:19:38 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments