Midwest Playing Catch-Up on Energy Saving Building Codes

Yesterday, the New York Times' Green Inc. blog documented the entirely unfounded, and unfortunately somewhat successful, opposition to updating energy efficiency codes for new residential and commercial construction by some Midwestern homebuilders’ associations.  A large chunk of the Midwest states are lagging behind the rest of the country where builders are required to incorporate minimum, common-sense energy saving measures, for new homes and commercial buildings. 

We’re not talking about building every structure to the super-efficient LEED Platinum level – these codes simply incorporate measures that are so widely available and cost effective that it makes sense to require in every new building.  We’re being outdone by states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Kentucky. 

Thankfully, not all homebuilder trade associations are quite as shortsighted as the Ohio Homebuilders Association.  In a triumph of reason, the Illinois Homebuilders have weighed-in supporting state legislation that would adopt the latest national model energy efficiency codes as the standard for all new construction in the state.   If all goes as planned, that legislation will be on the Governor’s desk later this week.

Here’s why this matters.  A home built today will last for more than 50 years or more – my home in Chicago is 112 and holding strong.  If the builder cuts corners to shave a few hundred dollars off the construction costs, that home can cost its owner hundreds more each and every year in energy bills.  A 2007 study showed that the 2006 code would save homeowner more than $400 per year in energy costs compared to the average home built under current practices in Illinois.  Going back and retrofitting that home with energy saving measures later is a lot more costly than just incorporating good design practice at the outset.

In addition to saving homeowners money, more efficient building codes have the added benefit of reducing our need to burn fossil fuels, which causes global warming.  According to the Building Codes Assistance Project, a statewide residential code in Indiana would cut emissions of global warming pollution by 2.8 million metric tons cumulatively over the next 20 years.