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Sunday, 11 May 2014 22:00

Potential energy efficiency updates to building code put interest groups at odds

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There’s a battle of competing reports brewing in Lansing over potential updates to the energy section of the state’s residential building code.

On one hand, backers of increasing the energy efficiency requirements in the code say that instituting changes recommended by a U.S. Department of Energy report would help homeowners save $230 million in energy costs annually by 2030.

But the state home builders’ lobby says not so fast, citing inconsistencies in the report that could end up adding unnecessary costs to the price of a new home and displacing potential buyers from the market.

The implications of a sweeping update to the state’s residential building code go beyond potential homeowners, builders and materials manufacturers, all of whom are awaiting a final decision on the revision process that isn’t expected to take effect until 2015.

At the heart of the debate is a recent Department of Energy report that recommends the state regulations be updated to the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). By upgrading to the 2012 standards, the average energy costs for new homes would be reduced by 30.9 percent, the report stated. As such, homeowners could realize roughly $10,081 in energy savings over an initial 30-year period, according to the DOE findings.

However, the Michigan Home Builders Association says the current Michigan Uniform Energy Code, the minimum standard for residential building that was based upon and amended from the 2009 IECC, is meant to protect home affordability.

The MHBA also takes issue with the sources for the DOE report, which the group maintains don’t accurately reflect the state’s weather conditions or the types of new homes most often built in Michigan. And the recommendations all but ignore the requirement that codes have a seven-year payback.

“Some of this misinformation comes from the fact that people don’t understand the codes,” said Lee Schwartz, executive vice president of governmental relations for the Michigan Home Builders Association. “Some people make claims, but really don’t know what they’re talking about and are just working off of someone else’s fact sheet.”

The code updates are currently in the committee review stage, said Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs spokesperson Jeannie Vogel. However, the state still hasn’t determined whether the findings in the DOE report are valid, she said.

A competing study commissioned by the MHBA from Texas A&M University in December compares implementing the 2012 codes with the 2009 IECC-based Michigan code. It found that more than 31,000 families could be priced out of the homebuilding market due to the proposed energy efficiency requirements.

But the Michigan Energy Efficiency Contractors Association contends that the number of homeowners that could be priced out of the market because of costs related to the new codes is but a small fraction of the total housing starts expected in the coming years.

The group believes ratcheting up the code’s energy efficiency baseline is worth it because it would improve the quality of the state’s housing stock in the future, said Brindley Byrd, MEECA’s executive director.

MEECA contends that updating the residential building energy codes is ultimately an economic development initiative that will make the state more attractive to new companies and attract additional private-sector investment.

“Companies looking to relocate or expand their business use a lot of metrics to determine where they want to go, and housing stock is a major part of their consideration,” he said.

While MEECA’s Byrd points out that his organization’s views are in line with the vision for zero energy waste Gov. Snyder outlined earlier this year, he did note that a full adoption of the new residential building energy codes would be a significant economic windfall for the group’s membership.

“MEECA believes that Michigan should have progressive energy codes for the new building market, and the best way to do that is to adopt the 2012 IECC standards,” Byrd said. “(The) new codes … impact the perception of the state and the direction of the industry.

We don’t want to be left behind. We have enough impediments already.”

However, the MHBA is also quick to point out that its members are not against increasing home energy efficiency. They contend that it’s always possible for concerned home buyers to build above code to achieve maximum efficiency.

Additionally, manufacturers often try to manipulate the codes to gain market advantage over competitors’ products, Schwartz added.

“We support green building and we support it as a choice and not as something that is shoved down people’s throats,” the MHBA’s Schwartz said. “The idea that we’re opposed to more energy-efficient homes is just pernicious nonsense. Our issue is that anything we do in the energy codes has to meet Michigan’s cost-effective requirement standards.”

Read 6510 times Last modified on Friday, 09 May 2014 15:43

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