MONDAY, JANUARY 3, 2011  02:51 AM




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Today’s political news


omes built this year in Michigan and Pennsylvania will be more energy-efficient – and more costly – than those built in Ohio, as those states enact building codes that have remained in committees for almost two years in Ohio.

Ohio homebuilders have opposed the codes, which are based on the International Code Council models, on the grounds that they would add significantly to the price of a new home at exactly the wrong time. Several new construction codes are on the table, including a new residential code, but the biggest lightning rod has been the council’s proposed energy-conservation code.

“We think the code is very short-sighted,” said Vincent Squillace, executive vice president of the Ohio Home Builders Association. “Why, in the middle of a three- or four-year depression, would you cause a financial impact on the homebuying public?”

According to an analysis done for the association, the energy code’s recommendations could add up to $2,500 to the cost of a central Ohio home and take more than 20 years to pay off in utility savings.

Proponents of the energy code, which is backed by a large coalition of consumer, environmental, conservation and civic groups including the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, dispute those figures.

According to a study done on behalf of the code’s advocates, the changes could add about $800 to the cost of a typical new home and save a homeowner more than $200 a year in utility costs, leaving a four-year payback.

“We’re requiring our utilities to use 21st-century technology, and our manufacturers and car makers,” said Jennifer Miller, the conservation coordinator with the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been active in organizing support for the proposed code. “It’s really time we bring our homes up to the same standards, too.”

Besides Michigan and Pennsylvania, the council codes have been adopted by Illinois and Iowa and are under consideration in Kentucky and Indiana.

“All around us, states are updating their codes to protect consumers and to protect the environment, and Ohio has just paused,” Miller said.

The codes have been under discussion since early 2009, when the International Code Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, drafted model codes for states to consider.

One of the proposed residential code’s most controversial provisions would have required sprinkler systems in new homes to protect against fire. That provision is almost certain to be scratched from any final Ohio code, as it has been in other states, say those involved in the process.

The most contentious remaining recommendations are found in the energy code. Among them: raising the R-value insulation requirement for exterior walls from R-13 to R-20 and basement walls from R-5 to R-10. (A different set of recommendations would apply to southern Ohio counties because of their different climate.)

The code also recommends that at least half the light bulbs in new homes be high-efficiency such as compact fluorescent bulbs; that homes meet an air-tightness standard that could include a blower-door test; and that air ducts be sealed if they are in nonheated spaces such as attics or crawl spaces.

One of builders’ biggest fears is that increasing exterior wall insulation would force them to construct 2-by-6 walls instead of the more common 2-by-4 walls.

That fear is unwarranted, said Isaac Elnecave, a senior policy manager with the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance who has testified on behalf of the energy code. Elnecave said builders can avoid putting in thicker walls if they cover the outside of the building with a layer of foam insulation.

In addition, code review committees are exploring different approaches to greater efficiency that might eliminate a minimum

R-value, said Regina Hanshaw, the executive secretary of Ohio’s Board of Building Standards, which is responsible for the state’s building codes.

“The energy subcommittee is looking at adopting the (energy provisions) as a whole but is also looking at stakeholders to see if they can develop an alternative path that might be as energy-efficient,” Hanshaw said.

Much of the two-year debate has focused on details of that alternative path. After much jockeying, the Board of Building Standards came close to approving a set of codes in November 2009 but shelved it with instructions from Gov. Ted Strickland’s office to review the codes’ “potential impact on the state’s struggling economy,” according to a board memo.

Hanshaw said she expects a code to be adopted in 2011. The state must adopt more-energy-efficient building codes sometime in the next eight years to live up to its end of a bargain with the federal government that allowed the state to begin receiving $96 million in energy-related federal stimulus funds.

Squillace said the homebuilders’ association will continue to oppose new codes, setting the stage for a lobbying battle in the new year.

“There is no reason to change the code,” he said. “If you keep everything in place, you’ll be able to keep some housing affordability.”

Proponents of the changes say that although they understand the builders’ concerns, they will likewise push to adopt the tougher codes.

“There’s a lot of good reasons to do this, both environmental and economic,” Elnecave said. “If you have energy-efficient building codes, homeowners make out well because they’re saving energy and money.”