State News

Panel: New homes in NC must be more energy-efficient

Posted December 14, 2010 7:01 a.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2010 9:37 a.m. EST

— The North Carolina board that sets rules for how homes are built wants builders to improve energy efficiency by 15 percent within two years.

The North Carolina Building Code Council decided Tuesday to order the increase in home energy efficiency and to consider changes to building standards that could cut building costs. Commercial buildings would be required to meet a 30 percent improvement in energy efficiency.

The new standards, which become mandatory in March 2012, call for changes like more insulation and energy-efficient windows and heating systems in homes. A study done by Appalachian State University showed the average homeowner could save $30 to $100 in monthly utility costs through such changes.

"I don't think there's anybody in this country that doesn't understand what the future energy costs are going to be and the fact that we've got to deal with it as best as we can," Building Code Council Chairman Dan Tingen said.

The North Carolina Home Builders Association contends that upgrading energy efficiency in a $180,000 home would add about $3,000 to the price tag. Builders say they cannot afford to pass those costs to prospective buyers in a sluggish housing market.

"Our concern is about the consumer that would not qualify for a loan because of these added costs that would be added to the construction of that home," said Robert Privott, director of codes and construction for the builders association.

Tingen, who also is a developer, sympathized with the builders.

"If we can add $3,000 to the cost of a house, it would definitely create better value for the buyer," Tingen said. "If the buyer is willing to pay me that $3,000 additional, I'd be happy to do it, but they just won't. It's a one-sided wheel just lopping down the road, and people aren't happy with it."

Gov. Beverly Perdue's office and home builders negotiated the list of proposed offsets to the cost of building a home to state standards. The proposals include easing requirements on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, making sprinkler systems optional in townhouse projects and changing rules on home foundations.

The council will consider those proposals in the coming months, but some members were already questioning them Tuesday, saying they would risk safety.

"It would cut costs, but at what cost?" said Guilford County emergency services director Alan Perdue, who represents the state's fire services on the Building Code Council. "We don't need to give up health and safety."

Privott noted that the list of proposed construction cost savings would be reviewed for months, and not all would take effect.

"It's a long list, so there's certainly some things that can be removed," Privott said.

The General Assembly also could step in and reject the council's changes.

The council had voted in September to delay energy changes until 2015, but environmental groups that wanted a 30 percent efficiency increase contended the vote was improper and got the Governor's Office to step in and get the council to bring the proposal up again Tuesday.

For green builder Chad Ray, the best part of the compromise is a how-to manual for builders who want to know what to include and what to leave out of a home to meet a standard 30 percent more efficient than homes built today.

"That sounds simple, but we've never had that before," said Ray, who runs Olde Heritage builders in Zebulon. "The state's better off than with the (home builders association) fighting it tooth and nail."