Opinion and Viewpoint

QUINN: New energy code is already obsolete

April 7, 2012

Bowden QuinnIndiana’s new energy code for residential buildings takes effect April 5. Replacing a 1992 code, this is a major step forward for Indiana that will be of significant benefit for new home buyers. However, it’s already time to adopt newer energy codes.

It isn’t surprising if the state Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission is reluctant to resume the process of adopting a new residential energy code. A review committee spent almost two years amending the state’s entire residential building code only to have the State Budget Agency reject most of it in late 2010 because the administration felt it would raise the cost of houses too high at a time when the market was depressed.

The budget agency allowed the energy section of the proposed code to go forward because the costs that it adds to the price of houses are quickly compensated by the reduced energy bills that homeowners have in more energy-efficient houses.

The new code is equivalent to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, which was the most modern version at the time the committee started its review. But energy codes are revised every three years, so now there is a 2012 code that is significantly better than the 2009 version.

Adopting the new code would result in even greater savings for Indiana home buyers. The Building Code Assistance Project recently analyzed the impact of upgrading from the 2009 code to the 2012 code in Illinois, which is in the same two climate zones as Indiana. It determined that a few months’ worth of lower energy bills would compensate for the increased cost of a mortgage for a typical house built to the latest code.

In northern Illinois (climate zone 5), the 2012 code would add $1,513 to the cost of a 2,400-square-foot single-family home but lower energy bills by about $397 a year, according to the study. When factoring the additional construction costs and energy savings into a typical 30-year mortgage, the homeowner starts saving money in 11 months.

A house in southern Illinois (climate zone 4) would cost from $958 to $1,775 more depending upon the type of wall the builder chooses and save from $407 to $424 a year in energy bills. The payback time would be from seven to 13 months.

Once past the breakeven point, the more energy-efficient homes would be putting dollars into their owners’ bank accounts every month for as long as they own their homes. That means hundreds of extra dollars every year could be spent in the local economy, creating jobs and helping businesses prosper.

In 2009, Illinois passed an Energy Efficient Buildings Act that requires the state to adopt the newest version of the code within nine months of its publication, to be effective three months later. So people in Illinois who buy newly built homes this year can expect to see those savings.

We could be realizing the same benefits here in Indiana. Lawmakers should move the residential energy code into the Indiana Energy Conservation Code, which currently just has the standard for commercial buildings.

The building commission should then establish a committee that focuses on updating the two energy codes. This committee could review the latest model codes, which are revised on different three-year cycles, amend them to suit Indiana’s specific needs and submit their revised versions to the commission for prompt adoption.

To avoid further delay—since the Legislature won’t meet for another nine months—Gov. Mitch Daniels should instruct the commission to begin the adoption process immediately for the 2012 residential energy code and for the 2010 commercial code. Delay is just wasting money.•

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Bowden Quinn is conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club, Hoosier Chapter. Views expressed here are the writer’s. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.
 

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