Time for More Energy-Efficient Homes in Utah?
PHOTO: It's easier to make a home energy-efficient when it is under construction than to retrofit in response to high energy bills. Courtesy of Escape Estates, Inc.
December 21, 2012
PROVO, Utah – If Utahns are paying more to heat their homes this winter than they should have to, one reason may be the state's outdated residential building codes.
New homes built in Utah have to meet minimum standards for energy efficiency from 2006, and experts say a lot has changed since then in terms of building materials and techniques. The legislature squashed potential updates the last two years, but will be asked to pass them again in January.
Kevin Emerson, a senior policy associate with Utah Clean Energy, says there are benefits for the state's economy as well as individual homeowners.
"This specific standard – since we'd be moving from the vastly outdated 2006 standard – would be cutting energy waste and associated energy costs by 30 percent for the average home in Utah."
Emerson says the newer codes include what he calls "common sense" requirements like sealing home heating and cooling ducts and using better-quality windows. Some home builders say those improvements will make their houses less affordable, particularly for first-time buyers.
Earlier this year, a nonpartisan advisory board, which included builders, produced a compromise to take to the legislature – updating only parts of the codes. Dave Parduhn, who heads an energy consulting firm in Provo, sees it as a stopgap measure.
"It's a step in the right direction, and some is better than none. You know, the standards are going to increase and they're going to get harder and harder as we go forward in the years to come. And so, it just kind of is a Band-Aid now, to fix part of the problem, but it doesn't solve the issue."
Parduhn says homeowners either pay a little more up front for a house with greater energy efficiency – or else they pay even more later, for retrofits to help bring down their high energy bills.
The Salt Lake Home Builders' Association is among the groups now on board for code updates. But Emerson says others are suggesting no code improvements be made for a number of years.
"In effect, what they're advocating is they want to keep the code at a set point for the next – possibly up to the next decade. We think this is unacceptable just because it keeps energy savings off the table for people who invest in new homes."
Utah Clean Energy estimates that by not adopting more modern residential building codes, buyers of new homes in the state will waste a total of $56 million worth of energy over the next 10 years.