In homes all across North Carolina this frigid December, heat is escaping through poorly sealed windows and walls, and cold is leaking in. Utility bills are going through the roof.
So you'd think the state would warmly welcome a building code update to require builders of new houses to take common-sense steps to keep more of the heat (and the cool, in summer) where it belongs, trimming utility bills in the process.
And yet, proposed changes to do just that met a chilly reception in the N.C. Building Code Council this fall, and on Tuesday the council gave its approval to a woefully watered-down code change. Instead of requiring new houses to be, on average, 30 percent more energy efficient than at present - the level debated by the council for months - it settled on just 15 percent. Commendably, a 30 percent standard for commercial buildings did win ap
It's tempting to say that half a loaf - 15 percent greater efficiency - is better than nothing, and in a sense it is. But even that modest improvement comes at a price, one imposed by the give and take of political and interest-group pressure. Somehow, a rational upgrade in home efficiency standards, one that made perfect sense on its merits, got tangled in the Perdue administration's desire to present itself, with a big budget shortfall looming and a Republican-led General Assembly coming to town, as a red-tape-cutting, builder-friendly engine of growth.
The result was a dictate from Gov. Beverly Perdue's office, with a big nod to homebuilders who balked at the cost of building in greater energy efficiency, that the new standard must be accompanied by steps intended to cut costs. This, supposedly, to cancel out the increased cost of better sealing and insulation in new houses.
Well, red tape and outdated/unneeded building rules will find no defenders here. But a couple of things about the Perdue-enforced tradeoff are disturbing.
First, the cost equation is unequal. It's been estimated that the 30 percent energy efficiency improvement would have cost up to $2,400 per house (although buyers would have saved money on a monthly basis, due to lower utility bills). So, presumably, a 15 percent standard would cost less - why else drop to that level? Yet the Building Code Council has been ordered to find $3,000 or so per house in rule-related savings.
Second, it appears that existing fire safety rules are among the items potentially on the chopping block. One example: a requirement to install hard-wired smoke detectors when renovations are extensive enough to call for a building permit would disappear; battery-powered units, which can more easily be disabled, would suffice. That's a formula for fire-related tragedy.
Building Council members should reject any rule changes that compromise safety or quality. And the Governor's Office, which has badly mishandled the energy efficiency issue, needs to recalculate how it pushes its agenda along.
Meantime, North Carolinians wonder: Is it really that hard to do the right thing?
Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/16/864415/the-minimum.html#ixzz18HC5RSuM