WV: Energy Code Update Push

Originally published by: The State JournalNovember 17, 2011

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Can West Virginia afford to adopt a more energy efficient residential building code? Can it afford not to?

These hard questions are on the table as green building proponents prepare for a second attempt at updating West Virginia's energy efficiency code for residences.

The questions were discussed Nov. 15 at "Will West Virginia's Building Code Go High Performance?" a discussion offered before the Nov. 16-18 Mid-Atlantic Energy Efficient Building Conference in Morgantown.

For home construction, West Virginia currently operates under the International Code Council's 2003 International Residential Code and an amended version of the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code, or IECC.

Currently, four West Virginia counties enforce the code, an option the state leaves up to local jurisdictions.

Nationwide, only three states are still working with the 2003 code, according to Sarah Halstead, executive director of conference co-sponsor West Virginia Greenworks.

An attempt during the 2010 legislative session at updating the state standard to the 2009 IECC failed due, in large part, to concerns on the part of the Home Builders Association of West Virginia, Halstead said.

"It was a very, very contentious debate in 2010. What needs to happen is, the Home Builders Association has to feel comfortable, to understand everything about it — the costs, the implications, the opportunities," she said. "And then they have to get their weight behind it."

The Nov. 15 discussion was aimed at airing and addressing Home Builder Association concerns.

Chuk Bowles of the Virginia Home Builders Association and EarthCraft House Virginia green building program for residential buildings facilitated the discussion.

Bowles, who describes himself as a "building science geek," explained that buildings account for almost 40 percent  of energy use nationwide — much of which is wasted through leakage.

"If we would just take care of holes in buildings and holes in duct systems, we really have an opportunity to reduce energy consumption by 30 to 50 percent," he said. That means reduced energy bills and increased comfort.

Bowles enumerated some 2009 IECC requirements.

Half of permanently installed lighting fixtures have to use high-efficiency lighting, he said, such as compact fluorescents or LEDs rather than incandescent fixtures. Programmable thermostats are required. A blower door test of building tightness has to show only seven air exchanges per hour with outdoor air.

During discussion, Morgantown architect Megan Nedzinski asked Bowles about appraisals, underlining the cart-before-the-horse situation builders are in: While some energy efficient features cost builders more, appraisers don't add value for them.

Chris Ilardi of the HBA agreed.

"You're asking for the minimum standards to be changed," Ilardi said. "That affects a lot of our builders who build entry-level homes who can't afford to do it if it's not going to come back in price."

Bowles acknowledged that appraisals have long been a problem for high-performance builders. But legislation now before Congress would require appraisers nationwide to take energy-efficiency measures into account when valuing homes, he said.

He also discussed steps builders can take would actually cut their costs while improving their buildings.

Don't vent your crawlspaces, he said, among other steps. It's cheaper to build, and more energy efficient.

And look into Optimum Value Engineered Framing, which he said cuts wood use by 30 percent.

"You'll spend more on sealing your building, with the code, but you'll make it up in smaller HVAC systems and these other steps," he said.

Other considerations make advancing the building code a complex economic and policy issue. Another attendee pointed out that, even if the state adopts the 2009 IECC, there's still the hurdle of getting local jurisdictions to take on the expense of enforcing it.

But the issue is not to be avoided forever: Bowles said another IECC update is expected in 2012.

And "the Department of Energy has a goal of having all houses constructed by 2030 to be net-zero houses," he said. "That's a huge leap."

Green building proponents in the state are hoping to get the HBA behind a bill adopting the 2009 IECC in the 2012 regular legislative session early next year.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, is one legislator who is interested in energy efficiency legislation, Halstead said. Further discussion will be scheduled in Charleston in January, at a time and place convenient for legislators to attend.

The Nov. 15 discussion was hosted by West Virginia Greenworks and sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Energy, Bridgemont Community and Technical College, New River Community and Technical College and West Virginia University-Parkersburg.

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